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We had thought the turnout for these events would pick up, but it's really lagged behind our estimates.

Does this sentence equal to:

We had thought the turnout for these events would increase, but it's really lagged behind our estimates.

Or:

We had thought the turnout for these events would meet our expectations, but it's really lagged behind our estimates.

Does pick up, in this sentence, equal to increase or to meet the expectations?

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    Increase, and possibly with the meaning of "from a badly low level". – Michael Harvey Mar 3 at 20:54
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It means increase, in the context of a quantity, but specifically to increase from a disappointingly low level, or surprisingly low level, or inconveniently low level.

It's used when things are/were lower than you want/wanted them to be, basically.

The "lagged behind our estimates" bit refers to the fact they thought it would increase, but it didn't.

In general, it can mean to improve, though only in cases where any quantity involved is going up. If something improves by going down (such as a crime rate), you wouldn't use it. But someone's health can pick up as well.

You may also come across it meaning something increasing even when that is a bad thing, but that's far more unusual. I might even go as far as to call it exceptional, but I have seen it.

  • The general meaning of "to pick up" is "to improve," or "to become better," but in the context of the OP's example "improve" obviously has the same meaning as "increase". – alephzero Mar 3 at 23:42
  • @alephzero: fair point. I'll clarify/generalise. – SamBC Mar 4 at 0:34
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    I'd say that in my experience, at least, something "picking up" implies an accelerating improvement. It doesn't necessarily mean that, but it gives me that impression. – Hearth Mar 4 at 2:38

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