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Up a creek/river & Down the river

Posted by James Briggs on November 10, 2001

In Reply to: Up a creek/river posted by R. Berg on November 09, 2001

: : : Is "up the creek" the same as "up the river"?

: : : Could you send reply to my e-mail address and I will check back here if I can

: : Not exactly. While some people may use "up the river" to be synonymous with "up the creek" ... that is to say, "in difficulty" ... another common use (in the US, anyway) of "up the river" is "off to prison." (I thought, but I have no evidence to prove it, that sending someone "up the river" came from the relationship of New York and Sing Sing prison.)

: In discussing "up the creek," a euphemistic form of "up **** Creek [without a paddle]," Paul Beale (revising editor of Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day) says the word is invariably "creek." The Dictionary of American Slang has "send up" = sentence someone to prison--no mention of rivers. Then there's "sell (someone) DOWN the river."

To be sold down the river is to be misled or to have a promise broken. The phrase comes from the USA where, in the 1800s, rich house owners would sell their unwanted black servants to be slaves on the plantations. The slaves would leave the relative comforts of the big houses to be shipped down the river (the Mississippi) to the hardship of the plantations.

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