downtown/uptown

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downtown/uptown

Post by Uptown » Thu Sep 22, 2005 11:17 pm

I'm wondering about the origin of my username (which I use on a transit message board as well).

Is New York City's odd, elongated geography the origin of "uptown" and "downtown"? Or does it come from European feudalism where you would have the castle on the hill and the working peasants in the valley? I'm pretty sure that French (if only Quebec City) has "haute-ville" and "bas-ville"...

On a related note, people in Providence, RI, use "downcity" about as much as "downtown".
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downtown/uptown

Post by Bobinwales » Fri Sep 23, 2005 8:12 am

I think the first time that I ever herard the word "downtown" was when Petula Clark sang about it in 1965, so if it was all about European feudalism it missed my little bit of Europe entirely.
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downtown/uptown

Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Sep 29, 2005 6:42 pm

Michael, Being originally from New York City, I had always kind of assumed – without really giving it much thought – that the UPTOWN and DOWNTOWN just referred to higher (north) and lower (south) street numbers. If you were going to 72nd street from 42nd street you were going ‘uptown’ – the adverb. And 'uptown' – the noun – was vaguely the location of the higher street numbers, although it would be difficult for me to define where 'downtown' ended and 'uptown' began.

In any event, UPTOWN and DOWNTOWN are 19th century inventions and thus are too new to have come directly from European feudalism. However, as far as I can make out, they did derive from a reference to elevations. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the adverb DOWNTOWN as:
<“Into the town (from a more elevated suburb); down in the town.”>
It defines the adjective DOWNTOWN as:
<“Of, pertaining to, or situated in the lower, or more central, part of a town or city.">
And the noun is defined as:
<“The lower or business part of a town or city.”>
The adverb UPTOWN (and similarly for the adjective), as one might expect from the definition of ‘downtown,' is defined
<“In, to, or into the higher or upper part of a town, or in the U.S. the residential portion of a town or city.">
So that in the U.S., at least, the UPTOWN part of a city is often distinguished from the ‘downtown’ part in that it generally is more residential than commercial, but, of course, this is not always the case.

The noun UPTOWN is defined as:
<“The higher or upper part of a town or city, specifically, the residential or more prosperous area in the U.S.">
In the U.S., as a slang adjective in the 1930s (and continuing on to the present), UPTOWN came to mean sophisticated, worldly, rich, from the Standard U.S. English idea of ‘uptown’ being the more prosperous residential district of a city.

Billy Joel's 1983 hit song 'Uptown Girl' refers to a DOWNTOWN guy from the 'backstreets' dreaming of the girl from the well-to-do UPTOWN:
<"UPTOWN Girl / She's been living in her UPTOWN world / I bet she never had a backstreet guy / I bet her mama never told her why // I'm gonna try for an UPTOWN girl / She's been living in her white bread world / As long as anyone with hot blood can / And now she's looking for a DOWNTOWN man / That's what I am.">
Petula Clark’s 1965 hit song 'Downtown' referred to the bright lights of the commercial areas (bars, restaurants, theaters, etc. - 'where the action is'):
“Linger on the sidewalk where the neon lights are pretty . . . / The lights are much brighter there / You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares / So go DOWNTOWN, things will be great when you’re / Downtown, no finer place for sure, . . .
_________________________
<1802 “Mama went UPTOWN today.”—‘Diary’ (1931), 8 April, by J. Cowles (1931), page 65> [[adverb]]

<1835 “To-day when I go DOWN TOWN I shall subscribe for the ‘New York Observer’ for you.”—‘Letters’ by Gray (1893), page 55> [[adverb]]

<1836 “The value of DOWN-TOWN property.”—‘Diary’ (1889) by P. Hone, I. page 200> [[adjective]]

<1838 “Even I, . . . a quondam [[former]] speculator in ‘UP-TOWN lots.”—‘Incidents of Travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia and Poland’ by J. L. Stephens, I. page 83> [[adjective]]

<1839 “The rain was pattering against the windows, and the house was far UPTOWN.”—‘Harry Franco’ by C. F. Briggs, I. xiii. page 96> [[adverb]]

<1859 “So universal is insolence in America, . . . even in what is called good society—the ‘UP-TOWN’ sets.”—‘Habits of Good Society,’ v. page 192> [[adjective]]

<1946 “New Orleans' DOWNTOWN is the old quarter north of Canal Street. UPTOWNN is the district around the nucleus of the American Quarter.”—‘Shining Trumpets’ by R. Blesh, vii. page 160> [[noun]]

<1952 “The man who had seemed a dignified young wonder on 135th Street . . . looked like a pompous and overweening young ass DOWNTOWN.”—'The Philanderer' (1957) by S. Kauffmann, vi. page 91> [[adverb]]

<1975 “The frisk . . . was for show, to impress high-rollers from UPTWON out for a night of slumming.”—‘Hammett’ by J. Gores, vii. page 50> [[noun]]
(Oxford English Dictionary, Cassell's Dictionary of Slang)
_________________________

Ken G – September 29, 2005
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Post by Uptown » Thu Sep 29, 2005 10:14 pm

Thanks, Ken! (And good call looking at my first name to avoid confusion.)

I'm sure that each city uses these words slightly differently. And many cities just use DOWNTOWN without UPTOWN.

As a 10-year resident of New York City, I would also have assumed that the terminology comes from the grid pattern. However, your first quote predates the grid pattern, first discussed in 1807, and brought into being with the Commissioner's Plan of 1811.
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downtown/uptown

Post by Phil White » Fri Sep 30, 2005 8:44 am

Just a thought: Most major cities (at least the older ones) being built on rivers, the commercial (and older) parts are likely to be physically lower than the residential suburbs which developed later.

As Bob says though, it's an expression that is not frequently used in the UK. I would regard it as American.
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downtown/uptown

Post by Shelley » Fri Sep 30, 2005 6:04 pm

James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree/Took great care of his mother, though he was only three/ . . . JJMMWGD/Said to his mother, said he/You must never go DOWN to the END of the TOWN/If you don't go down with me! -- A.A. Milne
I think Phil White and Uptown's castle on a hill theory are right: physically higher ground for the up-towners to "lord it over" the downtown denizens of the waterfront. Milne confuses me with his line, though: how can the down and dirty center of town also be the end (or outskirts?) of town. Milne was British, wasn't he? (Though I think the real stuffed bear upon which Winnie the Pooh was based resides in a branch of the New York Public Library now). So, I'm picturing a town on a river . . . London, for example. Where is she going that's so dangerous?
By the way, she did go down to the end of the town, and was never seen again.
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Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Sep 30, 2005 6:54 pm

Shelley,

I doubt that Milne meant what you think of as 'downtown'; instead, he probably had in mind the generally less salubrious districts of a town. (For instance, London's East End -- downstream of the wealthier areas of the city -- has traditionally been the working-class area of the city in which many immigrants and poor people lived, and in which London's industrial activities and docks were most concentrated. As house and land prices have shot up over recent years, many parts of it are now well on the way to being gentrified.)

Milne makes no explicit reference to London in his verse. However, if we postulate that it was London he had in mind, my hypothesis is that JJMMWGD's mother was inveigled or kidnapped into the 'white slave trade' and henceforth made her living on her back, issuing only the occasional sigh as a token of missing her solicitous offspring.

Clearly, the poem requires a novelized sequel in order to fully explore her new circumstances.

For the record, here is the full text of the poem:

'Disobedience' by A. A. Milne

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James
Said to his Mother,
"Mother", he said, said he;
"You must never go down to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."

James James
Morrison's Mother
Put on a golden gown,
James James
Morrison's Mother
Drove to the end of the town.
James James
Morrison's Mother
Said to herself, said she:
"I can get right down to the end of the town and be
back in time for tea."

King John
Put up a notice,
"LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
JAMES JAMES
MORRISON'S MOTHER
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MISLAID.
LAST SEEN
WANDERING VAGUELY;
QUITE OF HER OWN ACCORD,
SHE TRIED TO GET DOWN TO THE END OF THE TOWN-
FORTY SHILLINGS REWARD!

James James
Morrison Morrison
(Commonly known as Jim)
Told his
Other relations
Not to go blaming _him_.
James James
Said to his Mother,
"Mother", he said, said he:
"You must never go down to the end of the town with-
out consulting me."

James James
Morrison's Mother
Hasn't been heard of since.
King John
Said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.
King John
(Somebody told me)
Said to a man he knew:
"If people go down to the end of the town, well,
what can anyone do?"

(Now then, very softly)

J. J.
M. M.
W. G. Du P.
Took great
C/o his M*****
Though he was only 3.
J. J.
Said to his M*****
"M*****", he said, said he:
"You-must-never-go-down-to-the-end-of-the-town-if-
you-don't-go-down-with-ME!"
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downtown/uptown

Post by Shelley » Fri Sep 30, 2005 7:34 pm

Great, Erik Kowal -- a sequel, and YOU must write it! Thanks for putting down the whole poem -- I'd forgotten the "wandering vaguely" part and the King et al!
Interesting: downstream/downtown and upstream/uptown. So, in addition to its placement on a hillside, the down and up could also refer to a district's placement along a riverbank. Since the town's refuse and garbage would flow "downstream", the "downtown" districts (or "ends", hm?) would be less ideal, and therefore populated by poorer citizens. More meanderings . . .
Was reminded, also, of Lower Egypt's and Upper Egypt's placement along the Nile River-- Lower being downstream of Upper on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.
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downtown/uptown

Post by Phil White » Sat Oct 01, 2005 12:11 am

Which would mean that people from uptown are on their uppers, which they clearly aren't.
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downtown/uptown

Post by Shelley » Sat Oct 01, 2005 5:47 pm

Say what? Sorry, Phil -- I don't get it (my ignorance, I'm sure). Maybe someone will clue me in? "Uppers" would mean amphetamines to me, and I can't figure out why people from uptown would clearly not be on them. Seems they'd be just as susceptible as anyone else . . . If it's not worth explaining, just say so. I'll understand.
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Post by Phil White » Sat Oct 01, 2005 6:36 pm

I'm not at all sure it's worth explaining (only a load of cobblers really), but...

"to be (walking) on your uppers" means to be so poor that the soles of your boots have worn through, leaving only the "uppers".

For more, see what Michael Quinion (bless his sole) has to say.
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Post by Phil White » Sat Oct 01, 2005 6:46 pm

p.s. For cobblers, see also Michael Quinion.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Oct 02, 2005 3:47 pm

In my above discussion I said:
<“. . . it would be difficult for me to define where 'downtown' ended and 'uptown' began.”>
Well, as I read the Sunday New York Times this morning I realized that DOWNTOWN and UPTOWN never meet! – they’re separated by good old MIDTOWN – the third member of the triumvirate, which I had previously failed to consider.
<2005 “So it goes at San Pietro, which offers its clientele of financial kingpins and political heavyweights a mix of down-home, southern Italian cuisine and an opportunity to rub up against one another and purr. This unprepossessing trattoria [[a usually inexpensive or informal restaurant or cafe specializing in Italian dishes]], on East 54th Street off Madison Avenue in _Midtown_ [[capitalized (also see 1992 quote below) and I’m not sure why]], has become a stage for a spate of recent Wall Street big doings.”—‘New York Times,’ 2 October>
But, of course, now I have only expanded the problem by having to figure out where downtown ends and midtown begins and where midtown ends and uptown begs – you just can’t win for losing! (<:)

MIDTOWN noun/adjective: Chiefly North American. In certain large cities: a central portion of a city lying between districts referred to as ‘downtown’ and ‘uptown.’ Also, the area of a large city regarded as the main commercial district.
<1882 “The visitor cannot but wonder, as he traverses the business quarters of the MID-TWON, at the want of display of any kind.”—‘The Fortnightly Review,’ 1 December, page 686>

<1891 “This distance from town has its compensations in greater sweep of view, and especially in purer air than is possible in a MIDTOWN park.”—‘Overland Monthly,’ March, page 228>

<1929 “178 Public health and social work in a section of MIDTOWN New York.”—‘Journal of the American Staistical Association,’ 24>

<1963 “In the very middle of MID-TOWN, just off (and even just on) Broadway, the whole street is sometimes used as an open-air loading bay and temporary warehouse.”—‘The Listener,’ 31 January, page 202/2>

<1988 “The dynamic duo . . . are set to open an office in the Holborn area, or ‘MID-TOWN’ as it is increasingly being called.”—‘Sunday Times,’ 20 November, page D5/1>

<1992 “Andy Warhol opened his legendary factory in Chelsea, as the West Side north of the Village and south of _Midtown_ is known.”—‘Down Thunder Road’ by M. Eliot, I. v. page 74> [[again capitalized]]
(Oxford English Dictionary)
______________________

Ken G – October 2, 2005
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