The Up/Down Contrast
|Mood:||up, uplifting, uppers ||down,
a downer, depressed|
|Quantity:||a raise; over paid ||lower prices,
|Abstraction/Concreteness:||castles in the air||
down to earth|
|Ethics:||high road, higher self ||low road, base
|Status:|| high class, higher court ||low class,
low level position|
The value connotations of theUp/Down contrast are:
Here's a list of important ideas we express using the top/bottom, up/down
axis of the body. In each example, watch for vertical words like top, bottom,
up, down, above, below, high, low, over, under, and the prefixes super- and
We use height for both quantity and degree: The foreman got a raise today.
Stock prices came down today. Supplies are low. They are highly talented musicians.
More tends to mean Up, Less tends to mean Down. The right-angled corners of
the box-frame remind us of graphs that present quantitative scientific data,
with one variable on the left/right axis and another on the up/down axis.
Excessive or insufficient:
Overachiever, underachiever. Oversalted, undersalted. Oversexed, undersexed.
Over is used for too much, under for too little. Both are relative to a mean,
median or optimum level.
Quality or value:
High quality goods, low quality goods. The high end market, the low end market.
Highbrow (can also mean pretentious), lowbrow.
High comedy, low comedy. That is, sosphisticated, witty and intricate humor,
contrasted with unsophisticated humor. Humor also comes from reversing the
poles of the up/down axis: Turning things on their head can be funny, or can
be merely wrong, as in "You've got it upside down."
Contrast "holding up your end" with "letting people down." These
have to do with mutual support, playing your part, and doing your share. There
is also responsibility to oneself, which is expressed as "standing up
for oneself." The vertical axis is thus an important reminder of individuality,
uniqueness, and the stretch between where one stands and what one aspires to.
Speaking of the high road and the low road is a way to contrast idealism and
expediency. High morals vs. low morals.
High self-respect, low self-respect. To have a high or low opinion of oneself.
This is a subset of the idea of a quantity (a large amount or smaller amount
of self-esteem). Stand up for yourself, vs. collapsing and being down on yourself.
Respect: Look up to. Disrespect: Look down on.
Power, control, authority:
Think of the phrases "top dog" and "underdog." Also, "have
the upper hand" and to "take the high ground." "To be one
"one down" compared to someone.
Relative height often evokes relative power, partly because high things are
often bigger. "I have it on high authority." The High Court.
But being higher, by itself, is not always better--it's important to be well-grounded,
too. The "high and mighty" can fall or get knocked down. We speak
of the rise and fall of a political figure, a government, or an empire. Elected
officials get toppled when they are out of touch with their "base of support."
Class, rank, status, position:
In a social structure or organization, we speak of high rank, middle rank,
and low rank. High society. High living. Upper class, middle class, lower class,
and underclass. Recently, the Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, as used the
term "overclass" to mean people not affected by variations in the
economy and tax system. Her Highness, the Duchess of X. Someone is high in
an organization, in middle management, or in a low-level entry position. Climbing
the corporate ladder; social climber.
Sub-ordinate and super-ior positions (these prefixes mean under and over).
Some people prefer organizations that are more horizontal, that is, cooperative.
Revolutions started by people with institutionalized power are called "revolutions
from above," while those started by people with little power or status
"revolutions from below."
Pretentious or unpretentious:
A "highflier" is someone extravagant, extreme and pretentious. Someone
lowly is extra modest. Stuck up. Highfalutin. High-muck-a- muck.
Thumbs up, thumbs down, to indicate a judgement. To "boost" someone
can mean to praise them, while to "put them down" means to dismiss
or disparage them.
The up side is... but the down side is...
To be elated (elevated?) or depressed (pressed down). To feel "high" or
"low," happy or sad, "up" or "down." Drugs:
"Uppers" and "downers." "Coffee gives you a lift."
"That movie lifted my spirits." " Ice cream calms me down." "His
remark really brought me down." To be "in high spirits" or "in
High energy, low energy.
"The computer was up, but now it's down again." (A shortening of "up
Foundation, substructure or base, with a structure or superstructure above
that. Lower things tend to be earlier and more basic, later things cover them
up. Getting down to basics.
Levels of development or evolution are often placed on the vertical axis.
Even the word
"levels" suggests this. Thus molecules are "higher" than
atoms, and cells are "higher" than molecules. This builds something
like a pyramid, which, because it is of course smaller at the top than at the
bottom, indicates that there is always a smaller number of molecules than there
is of atoms. This must be so because atoms are parts of molecules. However,
we must be careful about our spatial metaphors here, because humans, although
they are more highly developed than apes, are certainly not made up of apes,
nor are there more apes than humans. Rather, the greater developmental
"height" or "depth" of humans means that, compared to apes,
they encompass and integrate a greater variety of differentiated parts and
functions, including more complex brains and greater cognitive and ethical
Alternatively, a lower developmental level is sometimes pictured as "nested"
_within_ the higher level. In such cases, the higher level is bigger than
the lower level since it must include (embrace, encompass, comprehend, integrate)
the lower level functions. This produces a flat drawing or diagram in which
the "lower" level is like a disk surrounded by larger and larger
circles of succeeding layers of development. Thus the Earth has a core/sphere
of physics, with a sphere of life around that, and a sphere of mind and spirit
Often levels of abstraction and generality are talked about in a vertical
way. Ideas can be too much like castles in the air, not down to earth and specific.
The prefixes super- and sub- are signals here: Superordinate and subordinate
categories. "Highly abstract" is contrasted with "getting down
to the nitty-gritty details."
When things are "stirred up" or "up in the air," they
are agitated, undecided, indefinite. When they have "settled down," they
are calmer, more definite and decided.
We say someone is "hung up on" something when they aren't getting
anywhere--they need traction, they need to be "grounded" to get anywhere.
They are dependent on something other than themselves (literally, they hang
down from it), instead of standing up by themselves.
Spiritual or instinctual:
One common phrase for the spiritual aspect of the self is one's "Higher
Self," which is often contrasted with one's "baser instincts." The
MetaSelf model accommodates this meaning of the vertical axis, but it emphasizes
instead the idea of a Larger Self or Big S Self, which it locates in the space
outside the room on all sides, not just high above it.
To call someone "upright" is to say they are honest and just, two
of the greatest virtues. It suggests that they are independent and self- respecting,
too. They have their feet on the ground and hold their head high.