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He'd been to a lecture the previous night up in London.

I looked it up in a dictionary. 'Up' as adverb has many meanings. Would you tell me if the meaning I chose is applied to the sentence?

From Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary:

chiefly British : to or at a more important place (such as a large city or university) He went up to London. Their daughter is up at Oxford.

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    What dictionary??
    – Lambie
    Mar 2 '19 at 21:41
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    @Lambie learnersdictionary.com/definition/up
    – user3395
    Mar 2 '19 at 21:51
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    @Lambie oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/up_1?q=up defines it similarly, it seems: "to or at an important place, especially a large city". It gives these examples: 1. We're going up to New York for the day. 2. (British English, formal) His son's up at Oxford (= Oxford University). The Cambridge one follows suit: "UK towards a more important place, especially a city", How often do you go up to London? She comes up from her village about once a month on the train.
    – user3395
    Mar 2 '19 at 22:04
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    Really good question. I am wondering if we say "down" if we go to or are at a less important place. Mar 2 '19 at 23:42
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    @Lambie Due to explicitly stated dialect-dependent connotations, I'm not sure the same is necessarily true for speakers of British dialects. Your usage is indisputable, but as it already fits another definition, it's not evidence of anything in particular – that is, unless you're claiming (and can back it up) that speakers of British English don't use the word up in the described sense and that the sentence at issue cannot reasonably be construed in that sense..
    – user3395
    Mar 5 '19 at 2:00
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Yes, that's the correct meaning to choose, at least I assume so, not having looked at the same dictionary.

I'm not sure their description is entirely right, but yes, as a relative pseudo-direction between places, it can mean going somewhere that's more important, central, prestigious, metropolitan, cosmopolitan, desirable, more of a destination. Something somehow more, better, or more important in some way.

It's complicated by the fact that compass directions also impact choices of word, but when it comes to somewhere like London the "it's the big city so it's up" tends to override it for most of the country. From where I live, I would say "up" to Carlisle, and "down" to Manchester, but probably break about 50/50 between "up" and "down" for London, despite it being far, far south of me (as distances in England go). But anyone in south-east England, or the east of England, and I would guess (with some trepidation) the Midlands as well, will usually refer to London as "up".

Consider the Oxford definitions, which include both "a place perceived as higher" (as in "up to the shops"), but also specifically "towards or in the capital or a major city". Cambridge has, as variants of the same sense, both "towards the north" (with an American example, in fact), and, as a specifically UK usage, "towards a more important place, especially a city".

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    So we say "I am up at London" and then "I am down at St Davids"? Weird... Mar 2 '19 at 23:41
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    @repomonster: Yes, in my experience people would say that, though people are more likely to say "up" for London than "down" for other places. It's asymmetric. People in the other home nations (meaning the other parts of the UK) are, I think, less likely to refer to London this way than people in England, also in my experience, though that experience is more limited.
    – SamBC
    Mar 2 '19 at 23:48
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    I live in Bristol; I might equally credibly say I am going up to London, Birmingham, or Manchester, but definitely down to Cornwall. Mar 3 '19 at 0:02
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    Well, whether we think of "down" as to do with south, or to do with status/prestige, Cornwall is probably down from pretty much everywhere else...
    – SamBC
    Mar 3 '19 at 0:16
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    @Lambie: Latitude of Bristol: 51.4545° N. Latitude of London: 51.5074° N. Given the imprecision of this (cities aren't points on a map), Bristol is not meaningfully south of London. Saying London is "up" from Bristol isn't supporting the idea that it's all about north/south. People in Hertfordshire will also say "up" for London, and every part of Hertfordshire is strictly and distinctly north of London.
    – SamBC
    Mar 3 '19 at 15:12
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Historically on British railways, the "up" train goes to London or another city that is larger or more important than the starting point, and the "down" train is the return journey.

Hence

He'd been to a lecture the previous night up in London.

means he went there from out of town, but other than that has no geographical significance.

We also say

Have the students come up yet?

No they are still down.

to distinguish between term time and vacation.

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    Weird situations when one railway met another, e.g. where the Down track of the Midland met, end-to-end, the Up track of the Great Northern. Still preserved today. Mar 2 '19 at 21:19
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    This one was new to me. Interesting! Though that may have followed from the meaning that whichever dictionary this is suggests, or have led to it.
    – SamBC
    Mar 2 '19 at 21:33
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    I doubt you would say "up to London", if you were in Manchester. He went up to London on the [time] train. He came down on the [time] train.
    – Lambie
    Mar 2 '19 at 21:44
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    @Lambie, you may doubt what you please to, but I live north of London and I go "up to London". Mar 2 '19 at 21:45
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    "Up to London" considerably predates the railways; it is found in much 18th and 17th century writing. I think the railway usage was derived from that, rather than the other way round. Mar 2 '19 at 22:04
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The sentence "He'd been to a lecture the previous night up in London" is fine for general/spoken English. But I would not used it for formal/business English because it is very casual.

Up can mean higher in prominence or stature. Since London is a capital city of England it has that status.

Also major cities have more money and educated populace by its nature. Another phrase that can relate to education is "up in clouds" meaning there are smart people just thinking of theories or plans.

Learning English is not just about learning about the dictionary. The dictionary is only a guide. Usage of a word is BEST learned by continually engaging with English speakers.

Hope this little advice helps you on the road to learning proper English.

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    It is idiomatic. It is not about formality or informality.
    – Lambie
    Mar 2 '19 at 21:42
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    It's incredibly common in pretty much any register except the most formal, written stuff. You wouldn't expect to see it in a major government report or similar, nor in a contract, but even in a formal presentation it will be used fairly frequently.
    – SamBC
    Mar 2 '19 at 22:08
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    That is incorrect. You might see it history writing or journalism or anywhere else where go up/go down, come up, come down is used with places. It is not necessarily either formal or informal. books.google.com/… It is, however, idiomatic in English.
    – Lambie
    Mar 4 '19 at 17:31
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    I get paid everyday as an auditor to not write "up in the warehouse". Idiomatics are not used in business or formal English.
    – Vincenzo
    Mar 4 '19 at 17:59
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Sample sentence: He'd been to a lecture the previous night up in London.

That means the person was south of London.

This is not chiefly British; it's chiefly geographical and used in all varieties of English and locations to refer to one's location at a particular time.

If I am south of New York (city or state), I can say: up in New York.

If I am north of New York (city or state), I can say: down in New York.

If your child is at Harvard College, you can say: She's up at Harvard. If you live south of the university.

In fact, we often say up and down and sometimes even over for locations when speaking.

  • Where's John? He's over at the office.
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    That's the generally accepted meaning in the U.S. but how can you be so sure there's not another meaning in Britain, especially when a dictionary is cited and gives examples that are obviously British? I have heard Brits saying exactly the same thing.
    – dwilli
    Mar 2 '19 at 20:12
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    While we might, here in Britain, say "up north" and "down south", when it comes to cities and so on we usually use "up" more in line with the questioner's supposition. We also say "down in the country", regardless of in which direction the bit of countryside in question might be. ("Out in the country" is also common, possibly more common now).
    – SamBC
    Mar 2 '19 at 21:26
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    (The "down for south" thing happens as well, so the two factors interfere - living in the north of England, I would be about as likely to refer to London as "up" as I would "down").
    – SamBC
    Mar 2 '19 at 21:29
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    @dwilli Of course, Brits would say this. So would Americans, Australians and New Zealanders, Canadians and many other speakers of idiomatic English.//Please, can stick to the question and not get sidetracked with other expressions?
    – Lambie
    Mar 2 '19 at 21:39
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    We don't know that the speaker in the example was south of London, so we don't know that Lambie's understanding is more likely to be accurate than that cited by OP and several others. – Funny that Lambie's comment brings in a railway metaphor! Mar 2 '19 at 22:05

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