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Is walking up/down the road/street applicable if the street is not sloped?

I think I heard something about "with/against the numbering of houses" but I'm not sure if it's correct.

Also, if that were correct, why is walking down the street more popular than walking up the street?

  • This is much like how "going up to Grandma's house" or "going down to Grandma's house" doesn't always imply Grandma lives north or south of us, nor at a higher or lower elevation. As for the Ngram, those lines seem close enough together that I'd be cautious about labeling one as "more popular" than the other – regional variations may apply. – J.R. Jan 25 '13 at 9:58
  • @J.R. Comparing those in COCA down is definitely more popular. – Em1 Jan 25 '13 at 10:39
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    @Em1: As I said, "I'd be cautious..." Something can be more popular in an international corpus, but less popular in Tennessee. Also, "more popular" doesn't mean that the less-used phrase in somehow "incorrect," although "far less popular" might be an indicator that something isn't quite right. – J.R. Jan 25 '13 at 10:51
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I don't think there's a specific rule involved here.

It is perfectly fine to use up/down the street/road if the street is flat. Which of the two one would use is more debatable, and somewhat depends on each particular person's point of view.

For example, one way, as you've mentioned, is to chose by house numbering: the way in which the numbers are ascending can be considered "up the street", and the way in which they are descending can be considered "down the street".

Or maybe you can consider the direction in which the street is more... erm... fashionable to be "up", and the other one to go "down".

I would say that in general, if used unrelated to the elevation, these phrases can mean the same, and can be used depending on your own preferences. Also note that "down the street" will always be understood, which I believe is the reason for it's popularity comparing to "up the street".

6

To keep it simple:

There is no rule regarding road vs. street. The only case I can think of where it may be important is perhaps when referring to a dirt road or rural/back-country area, in which case perhaps "street" is less common, but certainly there is nothing wrong with it even then.

There really is no rule regarding up vs. down the road. You can head "up the street" even if you're going downhill, and "down the road" when there's actually an incline.

It's a very casual phrase, and no one will call you out on it, because no one takes the time to stop and think "Wait, is there a hill here? Am I going up or down the hill? Are the numbers increasing or decreasing? Which way is up, dang it?!"

TL;DR Any of the four combinations works.

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    As for taking the time to wonder "Wait, is there a hill here?" I've been on long bike rides where I swear I was going uphill both ways – or at least it seemed like it :^) – J.R. Jan 25 '13 at 10:53
  • Usually people would point the direction with their hand when explaining, so I doubt one would wonder "which way is up" :P – SingerOfTheFall Jan 25 '13 at 11:01
  • If you were standing on the street giving directions, then sure, maybe. But if I'm in the house and I yell to my mom "I'm heading down the street to Joe's house", I'm not stopping to think whether Joe lives up the hill or down from me. You get my point. – Ken Bellows Jan 25 '13 at 11:06
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Simple answer – yes, you can say such things, even if the street is not sloped. The dictionary supports such usage:

down (prep.) at a point further along the course of (something) : he lived down the street. [NOAD]

down (prep.) at a point somewhere on a road, path, etc. in a direction away from you : they live somewhere down Park Avenue. [Macmillan]

up (prep.) at a further position on : a shop up the road [Collins]

up (prep.) further along (in any direction) [Wiktionary]

  • Then, of course, there is the "walking up and down the street, corridor or [whatever]" which can be followed by an assortment of adverbs (nervously, etc.). It occurred to me that up/down is somehow related to the position of the speaker or narrator, but I haven't yet worked out how to express that idea well. – Lambie Sep 23 '18 at 14:21

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