Up To or Down To The Capital

I used to live in the north west of England.

When I visited the capital I would say that I was going ‘down’ to London. I would be corrected by those who insisted that one went ‘up’ to London from whatever direction one was travelling. I now live west of London and I just say ‘I’m going to London’.

Is there a standard for this? What do the inhabitants of other countries say? Is this question so unimportant that it’s not worth bothering with?

People living “up North” refer to “down South” and vice versa. So I’d say “down” to London if I was in the North.

I live slightly North of London

From experience, I would be unsurprized if someone said ‘I’m going up to London’

  • equally unsurprized if someone said ‘I’m going down to London’

I would infer a different degree of enthusiasm between the two.

Nice question, does that happen elsewhere ?

I live south of London and would always say “up to…” - specifically on the understanding that it’s the direction it appears on a standard north-oriented map. Having travelled about the UK a bit in a previous job (and having had to discuss those travel arrangements in planning), I would say “down to…” if I was travelling to London from somewhere to the north of it.

If I was travelling to London from, say, Bristol, I would say “over to…” or “across to…”

I should probably add that if I lived somewhere mountainous, and was travelling from the plains to a mountaintop, I would almost certainly say "up to’ regardless of compass direction.

I live west and a bit south of London and it’s always “up” to London. I don’t think its being the capital is relevant. North is “up” to most people, I think.
Similarly I go “down” to the south coast but also “down” to Devon and Somerset, even though they are actually almost due west.

I don’t think that necessarily holds. When I go skiing I’ll talk of “driving down to the Alps”, even if I end up in Val d’Isère, which is more than a vertical mile above my house.

That’s true. Elevation would probably only modify the map directions of ‘up’ and ‘down’ when the journey is more local (and perhaps does not require a map).

I tried to find it by searching past threads I’d posted, with no luck, but I had a similar question a while back about how the various relative directions are referred to in your environs. As best I can recall, there was little consensus and the results didn’t prove much of anything.

In my own region, I’m surprised when exceptions to these general rules are used:

UP = North or to a higher elevation
DOWN = South or to a lower elevation
OUT = West or away from a more heavily populated area
BACK = East or to wherever one started from
OVER = some relatively short distance nearby (less than 50 miles or so)

In the thread I couldn’t locate, there were many variations on these terms, to the extent that if one were to travel very far it would likely involve changes in their meanings.

A little more searching came up with that old thread: Down/Up/Over/Out/Back/etc. in Giving Directions

I’m interested in capital cities and the terminology used when visiting them.

Irrespective of the starting point, there are people who obviously invest a greater importance in London and thus persist in going ‘up’ to London. Such people are probably Londoners.

Do Americans go up to Washington, Canadians up to Ottawa, Australians up to Canberra, Swedes up to Upsala, only joking about that last one.

I remember being taught that you go ‘up to’ the capital city (London in this case). BTW I’m from Birmingham originally, which is why I remember it as I found it hard to get my head around at the time, London being in the south an’all.

Places I go to often enough: Grand Bend is “up” even though it’s about two hours almost due west. This is probably because it’s on Lake Huron which is further up the watershed and a higher elevation than Lake Ontario which I’m half an hour from. Around here we considering anything on Lake Huron to be “up North” anyway, though no doubt somebody from Sudbury would see it differently.

Toronto is just “going to Toronto”, there’s no direction involved.

Niagara Falls is “down”, probably for the same reason that Grand Bend is up, plus it’s more southeast than east.

From this I infer that it is dependent both on direction and elevation, but mostly on local perceptions.

Aren’t these pretty much Americanisms? They make sense here considering that the country was settled pretty much from east to west. Everyone who was “out there” in the frontier wilderness came from “back there.”

In Panama, everyplace outside the city of Panamá (the capital and by far the largest city, with almost a third of the country’s population) and its immediate suburbs is called “the Interior,” even if its on the coast.

There is no “up” or “down” involved. If you are anywhere in Panama and say you are going “to Panamá” or “to the city” it is understood you mean the capital.

I used to live in England in the mid-70s. (Middlesbrough area.) I noticed the “up to London” phrasing, both spoken and written, and wondered about it then. It seemed to be more the older people who said that, but reflecting on that, just about everyone was older than me back then. I heard it enough that I still remember it. I put it down to the perceived importance of London to the rest of the country. Sorry, no citation.

In Minnesota the reference is always direction oriented. “Up to,” “down to” or “over to” the Twin Cities/St. Paul.

In railway parlance the “up” line is the one leading to London and the “down” away. To complicate matters railway people will talk of up and down lines even for routes that don’t go to London.

The only explanation for the convention is this. I don’t now how true it is.

*In the early days of railways there were few trains and the timetable could be written on a single sheet, with the most important terminus at the top, and stations going down the left. Trains in both directions were written on this. So if London was at the top then if you wanted trains from London you read DOWN the page, and trains to London were read UP the page.

When there were two tracks the track corresponding to the up direction of the timetable was the Up line and the other the Down line.

If one end of the line covered was London trains to it were always UP (hence you always say “I’m going up to London”). Otherwise the main centre of the railway company might be used, eg Derby in the case of the Midland.

On all lines there was always an assumed Up and Down direction for ease of referring to the tracks (if more than one) and the trains. This terminology is still used today.*

Exactly what I was going to say. In fact, when I’m going to Palos Verdes, I say I’m going up, because getting there involves driving up a steep hill. But when I was first learning the route, I would say I was going down, because it was just about due south on the map.

I think if you were going to the capital because you were angry, it would certainly be down. “I’m going to march down there and give the legislature a piece of my mind!” Otherwise, it could be either one, as far as I’m concerned.

Very narrow range to this reply: of the capitol buildings I’m familiar with firsthand (Montgomery, Atlanta, Nashville) all are on a hill of some description, and thus there is a Capitol Hill. So “up” makes sense for the building. Whether that’s the part of the capital you’re going to might make a difference in your choice of preposition regardless of where the city is located in relation to the start of your trip.

Are there some Capitol Buildings located below the average elevation of the city where they’re located?

I live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a few hours northeast of Washington D.C., and would go “down” (south) to visit there. For the state capital, Harrisburg, I would go “out” (west).