Suppose at a sporting event, some people chanted something. Then other fans that were not chanting started chanting the same thing:

Fans picked up the chant.

Sentences similar to this are definitely on google. Yet, I cannot find a dictionary definition for "pick up" fitting this usage. Even some native-speaker members of this forum said they never seen this usage of "pick up" before. Could this usage be slang or regional?

4 Answers 4


Not sure if it's regional, but 'picked up' in that context means to join in with whatever is being done (usually, as you've found, a chant or a song). An alternative is 'take up'.

It's metaphorically casting the activity as a physical object, which each of the participants are grasping and raising in a show of support.

  • 1
    It's used in that way in the UK, so it doesn't seem to be a regional thing. Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 15:08

I read it as "picked up" meaning learnt. Maybe because I'm British and used to football fans having to pick up a "humourous" song that someone has made up (often changed lyrics to a popular song, such as That's Amore with "When the ball hits your head, and you sit in row Z, that's Zamora").

If it's just a chant though, the "take up" interpretation sounds right to me.

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    Agreed. To me it reads as sense 2 here, "Obtain, acquire or learn something, especially in an informal way": oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/pick-something-up
    – Weeble
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 10:38
  • Could well be Americal regional, but it's fairly normal usage over here (several regions of the US that I'm familiar with) as a similar meaning to "Take up".
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 14:32
  • @Joe Used that way in the UK and Australia too so doesn't seem to be regional. Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 15:09
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    For Americans reading this answer and feeling confused, 'Z' is pronounced 'Zed' (thus rhyming with 'head') in the UK, Australia and many other places, rather than 'Zee'.
    – Damien H
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 3:13

It might be regional, because it sounded odd to me when I read it.

Honestly, my first thought seeing the subject in the list of new questions was, "Yeah, keeping plainchant on tempo is hard, especially in amateur ensembles", and my second thought was, "...wait, this is ELL.SE, not Music.SE".


"Pick up" has the meaning in this case of beginning to do something that others are doing, particularly if it is stopping. A more common usage along these lines is "Pick up where I left off", which is something you might say when beginning to read a book in the middle where you had stopped reading the other day.

Macmillan dictionary includes this in its definition #11 of "pick up":

to start something again, from the point where you stopped

This is basically the same usage; it refers to the concept of beginning to do something, but not starting at the beginning. In the case of "pick up the chant", it is not you who earlier were doing the thing, but others.

I would suggest a subtle difference from some of the other answers here in my definition; it is fairly commonly used when the chant is dying down, more so than when it is gaining momentum. I would say "join in the chant" if it were still gaining, but "pick up the chant" or "take up the chant" if it were starting to die down.

'Pick up' is a very generic phrase in English, used for a very large number of different ideas all centered around (re)starting or gaining something or someone. "Pick up" a girl means to ask her out (on a date); "Pick up" a language means to learn it, but in a more informal way than taking classes; "Pick up" a radio station means to acquire a signal. The definition I linked above has 15 different usages, plus more sub-usages.

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