Up North & Out West


This week I learnt some interesting weather-related phrases in Swedish on Memrise, including norrut (up north / northward), söderut (down south / southward), österut (out east / eastward) and västerut (out west / westward).

Examples of how they are used include:

  • Upproret blir mer allmänt och går norrut = The rising is spreading and moving northwards
  • Enandet, som skedde i rätt tid, jämnar vägen för utvidgningen österut = This prompt agreement paves the way to enlargement eastward
  • Det blir regn västerut = There will be rain out west
  • Det klarnar nog upp söderut = It’ll probably clear up down south

Sources: bab.la, Memrise

In Swedish they all have the ut (out) in them, so more literal translations of norrut and söderut would be “out north” and “out south”, or even “north out” and “south out”.

These sound wrong in English, at least to my ears. To me north is up and south is down, so it makes sense to say up north and down south, although I’m not sure why we say out east/west. Does anybody know? Are there other ways to refer to directions?

In Irish, and other Gaelic languages, the words for directions change depending on whether you’re in the north, going north, coming from the north, and so on. For example:

  • tuaisceart = north, northern, ó thuaidh = north of / going north, aduaigh = from the north
  • deisceart = south, southern, ó dheas = south of / going south, aneas = from the south

More details

6 thoughts on “Up North & Out West

  1. In the US it’s “out west” and “back east”; the semantics is self-explanatory.

  2. In Fredericton, New Brunswick where I live, we often speak of the Miramichi River valley which is north of us as “over north”. Likewise I remember as a child speaking of going “up town” since we lived at the bottom of a hill. Later, after having moved to another area of town on the top of a hill we referred to it as going “down town”. Even later having moved out of town it was then going “into town”. I had a friend from Saint John NB who always went “over town” since she had to cross the St. John River. Ah, prepositions!

  3. On the Isle of Man people traditionally went “down” to the north, not up as you might expect.

    I’m sure this must reflect the topography of the island (the north is a flat glacial plain).

  4. In Michigan, anything north of Flint/Saginaw/Bay City is starting to be “up north”. The story goes that calling northern Michigan “up north” came from Earnest Hemingway, because his family had a lakeside summer home in Petoskey, which is north of Traverse City. Hemingway wrote about his childhood “up north” and the phrase stuck.

  5. Out west = going outside of the settled coastal area, thus going west. Back east = going back to the settled coastal area, thus going east.

    Up north/Down south come from the compass directions on the map being up for north and down for south.

  6. In this respect Polish is neutral. We use the preposition “na”, meaning “on (something)” or “on to (something)”, for all compass directions. The accusative form of the noun indicates motion: “na północ” (northwards), “na południe” (southwards), “na wschód” (eastwards), “na zachód” (westwards). The dative form indicates location: “na północy”, “na południu”, “na wschodzie”, “na zachodzie”. I’m not sure if there is a theory why we use the same preposition, but one possibility is that the directions, which mean as much as as much as “midnight, midday, sunrise and sunset” in Polish, don’t carry any special emotional charge. Another possibility is that, since Poland is a mostly flat country, the compass directions do not carry any natural meaning of “up” or “down”. “Na” is also used for going “left” – “na lewo”, “right” – “na prawo” and “down” – “na dół”, islands: “na Maltę” – “to Malta”, the sea in general: “na morze” – “to sea”, specific seas and many other geographical features (mountains, lakes, deserts etc.). But although “na” is used for left and right, another preposition, “do” meaning “to / towards” is used for going forward – “do przodu” and backward – “do tyłu”. To decribe motion towards a forest, building, city, country or person we also generally use “do”: “do Anglii” – “to England”, “do brata” = “to (my) brother’s place”. Finally, for going “up” both “na” and “do” can be used, but with a slight change of meaning: “na górę” means upstairs or up a mountain, “do góry” means upwards in general.

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