Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 39: What's Up?

Today we're going to dig into the definitions and etymologies of two words that often get confused and used interchangeably: upside and upshot.

In casual usage, it's not uncommon to assume that just because a word begins with the prefix "up-" that the word automatically indicates a positive trend or predisposition. Words like "upscale," "upgrade" and "uplifting" all have positive connotations. However, it's important to remember that just as many words starting with "up" don't imply a benefit. "Upbraid," "uproar" and the notorious slang word "upchuck" all have decidedly negative associations. And, not to belabor the point, but some words with the prefix like "upkeep" and "upholster" may not have any connotations at all.

According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, "upside" means "an encouraging or positive aspect." For example,
The upside of owning a home is that I don't have to deal with a landlord.
It can also mean an upward movement of stock prices. As in "that stock has a lot of upside potential."

There's also the slang use of upside, as in, "I'm going to give him a smack upside the head," but we don't condone violence on Grammar Grater.

Meanwhile, upshot doesn't carry any of the value judgment that upside does. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, upshot dates back to the 1600s and originally referred to the final shot in an archery match.

In Act 5, Scene 2 of William Shakepeare's Hamlet, Horatio says, "So shall you hear of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts.... And in this upshot, purposes mistook fall'n on th' inventors heads...." Shakespeare uses the word upshot in Twelfth Night, too.

The word upshot morphed over the next two hundred years, and by the 1830s, upshot's most common definition had come to be simply "the conclusion" or "the result."

Sources: Random House Unabridged Dictionary, The Oxford English Dictionary and The Riverside Shakespeare.

Music from this Episode: "What's Up Fatlip?" by Fatlip; "Smoke on the Water" by Señor Coconut.

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