I came across the phrase "from the top on down" in this sentence,

England is rotting from the top on down! We pledge our revenge on Nottingham Town!

I consulted some dictionaries but could only find "from top to bottom" and "from the top-down". Does the phrase "from the top on down" have the same meaning as "from top to bottom" or the same meaning as "from the top-down"?

  • 1
    From the top on down is identical in meaning to from top to bottom and from the top-down. "On" was added to from the top down so that the two sentences in the chant will have the same number of syllables: to suit the meter. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 2:16
  • @P. E. Dant But I can't find "from the top down" in any dictionary.
    – dennylv
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 2:26
  • The hyphen in from the top-down is unimportant. It's the same phrase. They all mean exactly the same thing. And from the top down is in Cambridge, Merriam Webster, and the OED, at minimum. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 2:33

2 Answers 2


Your quote by the "Merry Men" in The Adventures of Robin Hood (Scene 2)

from the top on down

England is rotting from the top on down! We pledge our revenge on Nottingham Town!

has the same meaning as

from head to toe
from head to tail
from tip to toe
from top to bottom

meaning the entire structure or being.

NB: One also notes that "bottom" does not rhyme very well with "town", and by phrasing this way the rhythm is kept consistent.

I originally thought this might have been a Leicester City football chant, but Nottingham City FC is commonly known as Forest.


'Top-down' and 'bottom-up' as adjectives imply a directionality.

In the workplace, we might say some project is planned from the 'top-down' as meaning the same as "dictated from higher levels of management" or "centrally controlled", whereas a project planned 'bottom-up' is the same as "designed/planned by the users or lower-level employees" or the like.

You see similar language in newspaper discussions of political parties, e.g. "The party is neglecting its grassroots by rigging the primary in favor of Candidate X, and leading from the top down is sure to breed resentment." etc.

This particular passage is from Robin Hood, and in this context what they are saying is the system is corrupt, starting at the top (the King) and down through his agents (in this case the Sheriff of Nottingham).


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