Why is on and above used in the following sentence, rather than on or above alone?

But foreign policy statements are made all the time on and above the sidewalks of New York.

-- Bright Lights that Mask the Darkness (New York Times)

And why, more generally, does Google Search show 362,000 results for "on and above", almost as if there is no overlap in meaning and usage between these prepositions?

  • 1
    There's nothing wrong with on and above, but be careful using Google result estimates. They don't necessarily reflect the actual number of results. Instead, you can use one of several corpora of English, designed for this sort of thing.
    – user230
    Oct 9, 2013 at 2:05
  • 2
    The actual number of Google results are that which you can count by scrolling through the results. The search engine claims that it has substantially more results than what are shown, but no proof is offered. Also, Google is spammed heavily by machine-generated gibberish and web scraping, including web scraping which alters spelling and grammar. Lastly, English is a popular language world wide, and is spoken and written by large numbers of people who are poor at it, making it possible to "confirm" instances of bad grammar as being in use.
    – Kaz
    Oct 9, 2013 at 7:02
  • There may be overlap in meaning between two prepositions, but if both are used, we can presume one of a few things, such as: (a) the prepositions don't mean the same thing in that context, and both are needed (e.g., a weather forecaster talking about temperatures "at or below freezing"), or (b) the expression is used idiomatically (e.g., "he always goes above and beyond what we ask him to do"), or (c) the writer simply wants to reiterate an intent for emphasis or effect (e.g., "Plant the bulbs at least 10 cm under and below the surface of the ground").
    – J.R.
    Oct 9, 2013 at 9:25
  • @Kaz That's not true either. Google generally gives less than 1000 results for any query, but it does a significant amount of pruning after limiting to 1000, so results even for common terms may show e.g. 417 or 835 results. These numbers too are unreliable.
    – user230
    Oct 9, 2013 at 10:25

3 Answers 3


In general, this expression is commonly used because it is a useful way of defining a space that begins with any upward-facing surface and extends towards the sky.

I spent the autumn days glowering at the leaves on and above my lawn.

(source: google.com)

As far as this specific instance goes, we can tell from the remainder of your example sentence's paragraph what the author is referring to:

But foreign policy statements are made all the time on and above the sidewalks of New York. That explains why street corners are named for the likes of Nelson and Winnie Mandela of South Africa, the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, the murdered Kudirat Abiola of Nigeria and the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue.

This use of the phrase covers locations of memorial plaques and street signs, as well as the contentious Empire State Building lights that are the subject of the article. It's possible that there are metaphorical implications as well, related to the people on the sidewalks and in the buildings “above” the sidewalk, but the literal meaning is at least clear from the rest of the paragraph.

Named street corner, above the street:
A commemorative street sign affixed to a lamppost at a street corner, dedicated to Nelson and Winnie Mandela

Memorial plaque, on the street:


The "on and above" quoted here might refer to forms of advertising and news headlines that get displayed literally on and above the sidewalks of New York in the form of billboards, electronic signs, TV screens, protest signs and the like. The epitome of this phenomenon is Times Square.

I can't answer the cause of usage trends, sorry. However, the phrase on and above is grammatically acceptable, particularly in the quote.

Edit: Having now read the context, "on and above" refers to lights on the Empire State Building but also street signs. It might also be metaphorical for people's choices from the "man on the street" to the heights of power such as those in Office. Regardless of interpretation, "on and above" is appropriate.

  • 3
    I think the "above" part may also be referring to the people in the high-rise buildings that typify New York. So, people make foreign policy statements while standing on a particular stretch of sidewalk, or while standing in the conference room on the 34th floor of the building beside said sidewalk.
    – Martha
    Oct 8, 2013 at 23:19
  • The question hinges on whether it should be "and" or "or" and not about the political views. The reason the author chose to use "and" signifies the range or breadth of places political statements are being made. The two terms are not necessarily mutually exclusive as the OP appears to presume. Oct 9, 2013 at 5:09
  • 1
    Uh, no: read the question again. It wants to know why the writer used both "on" and "above", when it seems like a single word would have conveyed the same meaning.
    – Martha
    Oct 9, 2013 at 14:32

I will go with Martha's explanation here. The writer wants to say that the foreign policies of New York are made either on a sidewalk or above the sidewalk pointing towards the highrises and skyscraper in New York. I feel the author tried to mock the process of the making of foreign policies.

Observe the previous paragraphs of that article. The gist says that Empire State Building officials agreed to adorn the building with red-yellow lights on 60th anniversary of Communist Reign on China. Communist party is known to be one of the most hated and anti-humaniterian organization. Despite that, that very Empire State Building which did not give a second thought to making the bulding green on Id-Ul-Fitre or yellow on United States tennis tournament, beuatified itself on China's case. That said, in spite of severe people's protest and all, the US Govt. turned a blind eye and rather tried to make the Chinese Govt. happy.

"On the sidewalk" might signify sometimes people who literally don't know a bit about foreign or the states of other countries or what's going on there. And "Above the sidewalk" might signify that people who make foreign policies reside on tall buildings and they seldom know anything about what's the ground reality or what people of America want. So either way the foreign policy in America deteriorated. That's why just the former line says,

"Yes, the United States has sins of its own to atone for."

Discalimer- This is not the reflection of my personal political thought; only what I understood from the article.

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