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Here are two definitions of the word "down" from TFD.com:

Down a. Toward or in the south; southward: flew down to Florida.

Down b. In a particular part of a country: down south.

According to definition b., can I say "I'm down north right now" (down meaning a particular part of a country which is north)?

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    Definitely "up north" instead.
    – myacorn
    Jan 22 at 12:22
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    @myacron What about “left East”?
    – user09827
    Jan 22 at 12:39
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    In the US, California is sometimes referred to as "the left coast" but that's more about politics. Left as in politically left as in socialist.
    – Dan
    Jan 22 at 13:07
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    Working-class people in London say (or used to say) 'I'm going up West' when they meant that they were going to the West End for entertainment or shopping. I noticed as a kid that the characters in the BBC comedy 'Steptoe and Son' said it even though their location was supposed to be Shepherd's Bush, so that they would be going east. Jan 22 at 14:41
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    You could say "I'm down North Downs right now" :P Jan 22 at 22:07

7 Answers 7

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No, it is not idiomatic to say "down North".

It should be "up North". The metaphor comes from the usual orientation of maps. "I flew up to Maine", for example. The word "down" is only used with areas of the country that are southerly.

We don't really have anything similar for East or West. Perhaps "out West" or "out East" would work. "I flew out to Oregon" seems reasonable.

"Up North" and "down South" also work in Britain.

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    However "The Far East" refers to China, Korea, Japan (countries that are located to the West of the USA...)
    – James K
    Jan 22 at 13:29
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    You believe wrongly, you can only use "down" in this context with areas that are southerly.
    – James K
    Jan 22 at 14:09
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    In old-fashioned British usage 'up' was also used for 'towards London' or 'towards Oxford/Cambridge (universities)', so a 'down train' was one that took you away from the place in question. Jan 22 at 18:00
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    Anyway, Your question is answered. Your question is "Can I say "I'm down north right now"?" and the answer is No.
    – James K
    Jan 22 at 18:02
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    The American phrase is "back East" Jan 23 at 15:37
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Others have answered the (im)possibility of using "down north", but I think there is also a misconception on how to interpret dictionary entries based on your question and comments.

A dictionary entry records a word with its possible definition or definitions. However, it is most often not a complete description of the word's usage.

If a dictionary says word A has a meaning B, it means that the word A can mean B in certain contexts. It does not mean you can use A in its B sense in every context.

Down b. in a particular part of a country: down south.

This means that down can mean "in a particular part of country", for example, in the phrase "down south" = "in the southern part of a country/geographical area". However, you cannot use the word down whenever "in a particular part of a country" is intended. The entry is only a description of the word's meaning in some situations; even if down can only mean "in a particular part of country" in the phrase down south, the entry is still valid.

For example, dry in "dry wine" means "not sweet", but if you cannot describe a savoury pancake as dry just because it is not sweet.

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    "If a dictionary says word A has a meaning B, it means that the word A can mean B in certain contexts. It does not mean you can use A in its B sense in every context." I'm a little confused now, actually... do other languages not work this way? Jan 23 at 15:35
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    On the weekend I travelled 3 hours North to see family. They said "thanks for coming down to see us" and it sounded really strange. Given the context (we travelled South to North), "thanks for coming up to see us" would have made more sense. However, if someone had travelled from North to South to the same destination then "...coming down to see us" would have been fine. Context is key. Jan 24 at 10:50
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    @ThomasClayson I've heard, or possibly made, comments like that inadvertently ;) It doesn't sound right but it also tends not to be worth correcting in conversation. Jan 24 at 18:20
  • @ThomasClayson As mentioned in Kate Bunting's comments to the other answer, in the UK traditionally "down" can be used for "away from London/Oxford/Cambridge", so if you were travelling North out of London then "coming down to see us" fits the usage.
    – dbmag9
    Jan 25 at 16:49
  • I haven't specifically checked for this in the past, but I'm under the impression that dictionaries typically qualify which contexts words can be used in (to a reasonable extent). Having a dictionary say only "in a particular part of a country" when the only valid part of that country is "south" seems unusual, to say the least. I find it telling that Cambridge Dictionary, Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com all seem to opt for definitions explicitly mentioning the southerly direction instead. As for "dry" meaning "not sweet", the definitions I checked explicitly mention alcoholic drinks.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 25 at 17:09
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As mentioned in this answer on English.SX, sometimes people say “down North” in places where the rivers run downhill to the north, such as arctic Canada. Examples include the book title, Down North to the Sea: 2,000 Miles by Canoe to the Arctic Ocean. “Down North” is also sometimes used as a proper name, including for a region of Ireland.

Nearly all the examples I found use “down north” in the literal sense that the destination is lower in elevation. It would not surprise me if people somewhere use it in a metaphorical sense. I could imagine someone saying “down north” as a shorthand for “downtown, in the city north of here,” or some stuck-up person going “down” to the bad north side of town.

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  • This is special usage and not usually seen.
    – Lambie
    Jan 25 at 14:45
  • "Down East" is a directional phrase used in Maine because of the shape of the coast, as I understand it. Wikipedia says "an area that closely corresponds to the historical French territory of Acadia."
    – user8356
    Jan 25 at 14:53
  • Naturally, Australia -- land of fire and killer everything -- has to be different.
    – RonJohn
    Jan 25 at 20:20
  • @RonJohn Not seeing where Australia comes into this? People there definitely go "up north" to (tropical) Queensland and "down south" to (chilly) Tasmania. Jan 30 at 2:52
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Definition b in this case is highly idiomatic. The example given, "down south," is the pairing that most English speakers would use most of the time. There are words other than south that could be used with this sense of down, but only in very localized circumstances.

For example, there is a part of the coast of the state of Maine in the U.S. that is known as "down east" Maine. But if you were in the western end of Massachusetts (a nearby state) and told people there that you were going "down east" to Boston (which is in the eastern end of Massachusetts), they would think this was a very strange thing to say.

There may be other examples of "down _____" that are applicable in other locales that I do not know about. But in almost all places where it makes any sense to put a compass direction in the blank space in that phrase, "south" is the only word that is suitable. The definition as stated seems to imply that "down south" is only one of several possible examples that might commonly be used, but this is misleading.

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As has already been said, the common phrases are down South and up North.

In England, owing to railway terminology, up and down can mean towards London and away from London respectively. So, even someone who is located north of London will say: "I'm going up to London".

For East and West, we often use over in statements like: "I'm going over to Ramsgate", (but not just over East).

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    Closest (of distressingly many) answers here to the answer I wanted to make, so you get an upvote. For those who don't like my answer for some reason, I'd say you should look at this one. It is essentially correct.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 23 at 15:55
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    Same thing happens in Ireland. It's quite normal for someone to talk about going "up to Dublin" regardless of where they are coming from. Conversely, you can also talk about going "down to any-provincial-town".
    – osullic
    Jan 23 at 22:10
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    This also happens in my home state where people in towns along a river valley tend to refer to going "down to <x town>" if it's downriver, and "up to <y town>" if it's upriver, in spite of being north and south respectively. However nobody says "down north ..." or "up south", but specifically names the town. Jan 24 at 14:51
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    You also go "up" to a university town, or are "sent down" if expelled; I believe there is also "going up to London". So I would suggest that while some usage is based on map orientation or river flow, almost all of it is cultural. I would remind readers of the infamous Spoonerism: "Sir, you have just tasted two whole worms ... you will depart on the next town drain" i.e. the train leaving Oxford was "down", irrespective of whether it was heading towards London or not, and as such usage probably predates the railways ("up train" and "down train" relative to the company's central station). Jan 25 at 9:09
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The directions you hear in use in English are meant as map directions, relative to the middle of the map. When you hang a map on the wall, the standard is North is on the top (which puts South on the bottom, West on the left side, and East on the right side).

So, points far away relative to the center of the map (or perhaps to you conversationally) are "Up North", "Down South", or "Over in/to/at" for points East or West. This is to help those of us who visualize a mental map in our heads for finding our way about.

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    I would see no problem with "out west" or "back east" but have never heard "in west" or "at west" or "to west"
    – Criggie
    Jan 24 at 0:08
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    @Criggie - If you reread that sentence, you'll see I specifically didn't phrase it that way. I'd suggest looking Spiritman's answer for an example that uses the "to" construction.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 24 at 2:56
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    out west and back east sound very American to my British ears (especially as they appear to be a reference to westward expansion)
    – Tristan
    Jan 24 at 10:24
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    I know that a question was "Can I say down north as well as down south?" and that it was answered, but the fact that I posted it stemed from the usage to be unclear to me, because of the example in the dictionary and lack of explanation in it about the limitations of that usage, that was eventually provided by xngtng here. So basically... I didn't know, what I didn't know, but know I know what I didn't know as well as I know it :) THX GUYS <BTW Jame's answer with the highest rating still by all means valid and appreciated :)> Jan 24 at 13:33
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    @Tristan - I was thinking the exact same thing, but as an American didn't know if it really isn't said that way outside our shores. Its really funny how much social and historical context we pack into these silly little prepositions. Thanks for piping up.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 24 at 14:44
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In many parts of the US, especially in hilly or mountainous regions, people often use up and down to correspond to difference in elevation regardless of compass direction.

For example, you could say, "I'm going down to the store," when the store is downhill and north of your current location.

Here's another common one: "We're going up on X drive," referring to a park located on top of a mountain.

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    It's the same in hilly parts of the UK. Trivial point of interest: In casual speech, 'up' and 'down' often replace 'to', so we say "I'm going up the shop" (or down).
    – Spiritman
    Jan 30 at 12:52

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