If X lies upstream from Y, then is X a result of Y?


  • Social justice lies upstream from charity.
  • Everything good lies upstream from us.
  • Tonak Pokhari, or simply the Fourth Lake lies upstream from the sacred lake of Gokyo in the Himalays.
  • The firm's capability lies upstream from the end-product -- It resides in skills, capabilities, and resources which find a variety of end-uses. Excess physical capacity leads to related diversification if the capacity is end-product specific.

Now, I Understand -geographically- it means positioned at a higher height in a water stream.

  • 1
    No. Unless it's used metaphorically (as say in describing a production process), it just describes geography. X and Y are on a stream, X is closer to the source (upstream) than Y is.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 29, 2015 at 17:50
  • 2
    Literally, X lies upstream from Y obviously means that both points are on some waterway (river, etc.), and that X is located nearer the source of the river than Y. It might sometimes be used figuratively, but there isn't really any fixed meaning as to what this might imply. Without a specific context, my first thought is that people at or engaged in Y might be disadvantaged by the fact that other people doing something [earlier?] at X discharge sewage into the waterway or overexploit the vital commodity water. But in practice that's an unlikely intended sense. Jun 29, 2015 at 17:52
  • 1
    @Adam: It's not really a "guess" to point out that OP has got the figurative relationship completely the wrong way round. If there's any possibility of either X or Y being a result of the other, it simply wouldn't make sense for the upstream element to be caused/affected by the downstream element. Jun 29, 2015 at 18:07
  • 2
    @Adam: Well, I think we're agreed that absent context, there's no single specific meaning associated with things being up/downstream from other things. Juya - per my first comment, upstream means nearer the source (of a river), where downstream means nearer the end (usually, the sea). Thus, figurative upstream would usually mean earlier. Your idea about cause-effect is probably irrelevant in most cases, but it might well be that sometimes the figurative usage is intended to imply that upstream events are a necessary antecedent to whatever happens downstream later. Jun 29, 2015 at 20:12
  • 2
    Because the words themselves don't really "mean" much at all - it's mostly just a matter of interpretation, not much to do with English itself. Social justice lies upstream from charity, for example, is just an unusual way of saying that social justice is in some way more fundamental than charity (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean! :). And everything good lies upstream from us isn't much more than babble (perhaps alluding to the religious perspective that Man is a "fallen creature", and that noble savages and the Garden of Eden represent a "glorious past". Jun 29, 2015 at 20:23

2 Answers 2


As several commenters have noted, water flows downstream, that is, water flows from a place that is upstream to a place that is downstream.

Metaphorically, then, what is upstream comes before what is downstream. In context, it may mean that what is upstream causes what is downstream.

"Social justice lies upstream from charity." Social justice leads to charity, or charity is the logical result of social justice. Without more context, it's difficult to determine what the writer was trying to say.

"Everything good lies upstream from us." I'd really have to see the context on that one. Absent context, I'd guess that he means that all the good that could happen is in the past, and so the future looks bleak and depressing. Whether the writer is speaking of his personal life, society, or what I have no idea. It's also possible that he means something entirely different, like there are all these good things upstream that are going to flow down to us in time. Or any of dozens of other readings. We'd really have to see the context.

"Tonak Pokhari, or simply the Fourth Lake lies upstream from the sacred lake of Gokyo in the Himalays." That sounds to me like a literal description of the geography of these lakes. Tonak Pokhari is at a higher altitude than Gokyo and the water therefore flows from the first to the second.


If X lies upstream from Y, then is X a result of Y?

Not necessarily, no. X and Y are both points in a process, and X is at a point prior to Y. However the relationship between the two points X and Y and the process may vary. X and Y may be two observations, or they may be interventions.

You've actually got a really great example of this:

Social justice lies upstream from charity

In this case, the sentence means that securing social justice will stop the 'flow' of social ills - e.g. low wages, disempowerment, aliention, etc - before charity is necessary to deal with the effects of these problems.

'Upstream' might also refer to a supplier in a manufacturing process. Your second example might be someone emphasising that they pick high-quality produce, and downplaying their own involvement out of modesty or because they feel their selection of suppliers is a Unique Selling Point (there's not much context, so I'm guessing, it might also be geographical).

Your third example sounds strictly geographical.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .