Down/Up/Over/Out/Back/etc. in Giving Directions

When you’re telling someone else either how to get to your location or where you location is relative to another place, what do these words indicate to you:

others that you use in this context

To me,

Up – means either North or to a place with higher elevation
Down – means either South or to a lower elevation
Out – means Westward
Back – means Eastward

Over – just applies to any direction, but hints at having no real significant change in elevation (where Up or Down might otherwise apply) unless there’s a big body of water involved

It messes with my sense of things when somebody North of me wants me to come Down there, just as an example.

Is this just me and do you have an altogether different take on these terms?

I have a very different take on those terms. I was raised in TN, by the way, and have lived in NC, IN, WI, MI and MA.

I would say “go up 24 until you see exit 12” whether the person was heading north, south, east or west.

I live southeast of Nashville, but I can imagine saying “I am going down to Nashville to go shopping” or “I am going up to Nashville.” Go figure.

However, I would say to someone in MI “come down and see us” and to someone in AL, “come up and see us.”

I don’t use out or back.

Down- South or to lower elevation
Out- Away from some mentioned point of reference or from the city or town
Over- East or West, or roughly perpendicular to the previous direction of travel
Back- Any sort of backtracking, basically
Up- North or to higher elevation

I don’t use “over” with specific roads when meaning East or West; I’d only use it with movement toward a place. But I would use it in a narrower context to say something like “go over two blocks.”

I’d generally say “along (road name)” for long distances on roads toward the East and West. (“Go along I-70 west,” for example.)

I might also use the word “around” for travel around a beltway or something like that, where one would be changing directions on the road.

What do you say when going north requires going to a lower elevation?

The apparent confusion, in my case, would yield to the North aspect. Headed South to a higher elevation would still be Down for similar reasons. Maps are my main source for directions, and memory of elevation change (from actual experience) is secondary.

Just to expand a bit on this ingrained usage of these terms, let me explain that the state geography (and geology and topography) of Alabama was my reference point until I was in my late teens. Alabama runs from mountainous (well sorta) Northeast to sea level South, so North in Alabama is higher ground and naturally flowing water there heads South.

When I learned that Tennessee’s topography is more East to West high to low, I had to adapt my thinking that way. Hearing that the Nile flows North almost blew my mind.

People in the company I worked for who had transferred from home offices in North Carolina to the ones in Tennessee had moved “out” to do so and would go “back” for home office visits. (Implying, it seemed to me, the hard wagon trek over the mountains to the frontier.)

My main curiosity with this thread’s topic(s) is how much variation there is among Dopers in their senses of direction and what drives those preferences.

I try to avoid all these terms and use N-S-E-W whenever possible.

Okay. Say you’re telling a friend in another town to visit you. Do you say, “Come visit”? Or do you say “Come east for a while”? Or do you say something like “Come down and see us.”?

If he does not know the way, and I know where he’s coming from I give him directions. Then I’d say take I-96 east to exit 110, go north on Washington , take a right on Lincoln and go east…

The question as stated was in giving directions. If they know the way I might say come up no matter from where they came.

Okay. I can see that the OP wasn’t as clear as it could be. Let me try a rewording.

When you’re referring to your own location in relation to somebody else’s location, what do these terms mean to you?


In the OP I tried to indicate by compass directions what they mean to me, anticipating that my choices of direction might differ from that of others.

Is “up” all you’d use to refer to your direction from others? Are you on that much of a hill?

Up generally means ‘north’, as we live on the south coast and it’s ‘up’ on the map (I did hear about a nutter who mistakenly, but completely, believed that north literally meant ‘up’ and proposed the construction of a cable car between Dover and London, but that’s another story…).
Up may also mean travelling to a higher elevation, but since we don’t have any huge mountainous regions, this would only really be used in the context of fairly short-distance travel, perhaps even on foot.

Down means south or west (but only because west implies travel to Devon/Cornwall, which is also further south than we are)

Over generally means short-distance travel to a specific location, often the house of a nearby relative (going over to my sister’s house for tea, etc.)

Out means the fairly direct outward leg of any journey of any length. Out may also mean travel over water, away from land.

Back means the return leg of any journey, direct or otherwise. (The return leg of the aforementioned journey over water would be ‘in’).

Thanks, Mangetout. That’s what I’m curious about.

Maybe I should explain the source of the question or point of curiosity.

I was listening (on the computer) to a show that originates from Birmingham, Alabama, and the show’s host had a call-in guest who was in Washington DC, some 500 miles northeast of Birmingham.

The guest said something like (paraphrasing), “When you come down to DC you need to check out RFK stadium…”

This suggested to me that the guest was more accustomed to dealing with people from further north, like New York or Boston or whatever, maybe even Baltimore. Or maybe he had lost the sense of where his call was headed (south in the sense of where the show was being broadcasted from).

In any case, it struck me as odd. I wondered if my biases about what those words indicate were strictly my own or if they may be shared (to some extent) by other Dopers.

No big deal, and certainly an opinion sort of thing. Thus this forum for the query.

I won’t use those words to give directions, and I won’t accept them as directions either. I can’t go “up” or “down”-I’m in a car, not a helocopter. I’m already “out”, and unless the directions are to a garage I’m not going “in”. I live in Portland, Oregon, so unless the person I’m speaking to already knows which direction the streets run, “north”, “south”, “east” and “west” can only confuse. My directions use words like “left”, “right” and “straight”, and whenever possible I will give the street names to turn at, not “turn at the fourth light past the small grocery store-not the 7-Eleven, mind you, but the small store that’s right before the Safeway.”

I use N, S, E, W.

For instance. 'South on Rt 9 take the first right (Cnty rd 4) after you go over the pass.

Though I will ask ‘When are you coming up?’, since we live at a higher elevation than everyone I know.

Or I will say, ‘I’m coming down next weekend’.

I would never use those terms for giving directions though.

up north, down south, back east, and out west

May I please ask the main question from the OP again?

I’m not asking how you use the terms Up, Down, Out, Back, Over, etc. when giving directions on getting to your place.

What I’m asking is when you hear someone say (or when you yourself say) one or more of the following:

Come on up to our place
Are you going over to Charlie’s?
When are you going out to Alice’s?
Let’s go down to Kansas this weekend
Have you been back to Utah this month? (not as a return trip, but from somewhere where 'back" suggests a direction)

Or, more in the spirit of these:

I’m driving down to Pittsburgh this weekend
We’ll be up to Chicago next month
Can you drive over to Minneapolis and pick me up?
We’re headed back to Atlanta for the game

In any of these usages does one N-S-E-W direction dominate in your own thinking over the others?

Not for myself. I’m in GIS (mapping) so I may be a bit biased.

To me, You go ‘out’ to the country.

You come ‘in’ to the city.

You come ‘up’ to the mountains.

Or in my case go ‘down’ to the city.

Has nothing to do with N,S,E,W.

It’s easy in Toronto because the city is on a hill that goes up (north) from the lake. So, within the city, with a few exceptions everything south is (literally) down and everything north is up. It makes giving directions easy: from just about wherever you might start in the city, my house will be “south” or “down” or “towards the lake”. You might also have to go “across” an east/west street as well.

I’ve heard it’s fairly unique to Toronto that “across” means “along” (east/west) - ie to get to the zoo from my place, you’d go (north) up the 400, and then (east) across the 401 for a few miles. This apparently confused my parents when they first moved here. They tried to cross the 401, you know, from one side to the other, and were mightily confused when they couldn’t.

“Out west” means Alberta or BC, “back east” means the Maritimes.

“Out” also means suburbs of Toronto - you can go out to Mississauga (west) or out to Pickering (east). (I think you’d still go up to Markham (north), though).

I would say “come down this weekend” even though I live at a higher elevation and mostly east of the people I would invite. No particular reason for it. It wouldn’t cause any confusion if I said “come up for the weekend;” everyone would know what I meant. So I guess, out, back in, etc. don’t reference compass directions or elevation to me.

I do say “out west” to mean Kansas and Colorado, and “up north” to refer to anything north of Kentucky and east of the Mississippi River.

Giving directions is another matter entirely. I’m sure I’ve confused many people, because I would use out, in, around, under, over, through, near, by, out by, back out by, outbound, inbound, and where the old Sears store used to be damn near interchangeably. I’m directionally challenged, unfortunately. :o

Beautiful! Reminds me of the guy getting directions from another bus rider. Other guys says, “Watch me and get off one stop before I do.”

Another I’ve had used in all seriousness: “Go down this dirt road a piece and turn right just after the green Ford.”

This drives me batty, because I strongly associate “up” and “down” with north and south. I live in Florida now, so peole are pretty confident that they’re coming “down” to visit. But when I was living in NYC, someone to the north would occasionally say they were coming “up” to see me or whatever. Gah, no!

“Out” to me can signify any direction, and it indicates someplace somewhat distant or obscure. You can be going out to Block Island, but not out to Manhattan.

I think of “back” as toward home/place of origin. I’m going back to RI to visit my parents. My grandfather went back to Italy to visit his cousins.