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Place in Norfolk or mate of Charon?

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 01, 2006

In Reply to: Place in Norfolk or mate of Charon? posted by Lewis on April 25, 2006

: : : : : : : another way to say looked down upon

: : : : : : Assuming that you don't simply mean the literal sense, how about 'considered inferior' or 'sneered at'.

: : : : : : DFG

: : : : : In the case of this phrase, at least in the U.S., there is really only the literal sense. The other sense is conveyed by "look down on." Another phrase is: Looked down her nose at him. In Italian, you can say, "Da alto in basso," which means "From high to low." SS

: : : : "Dissed" in current slang. Disrespected, in full form. Or how about belittled, derided, despised, disregarded, put down, rejected, ran down, spurned, or undervalued?

: : : I have suggested that looking down your nose at someone is looking down ON them. But you can say, if you are the one looked down on, that you feel looked down upon. If I'm wrong, tell me. SS

: : Ah, Smokey, you're exploring a subtlety that I missed completely. Looked down upon (passive) versus looked down on (aggressive). Interesting. But wouldn't a word like belittled work both ways? Passive versus active voice?

: When I saw "Diss" I was looking forward to seeing the relevance of either a God of the Underworld or a place in Norfolk (Hell on earth?)

: I was brought up to think a Greek Myth was a girl named Nana or Helen.

: to be awkward - isn't the word "on" a mere contraction for "upon" or was it that "upon" was an emphasised "on"?

: L

Prepositions are always fun. Even the most fluent speakers and writers would probably confess to an occasional uncertainty as to the most appropriate preposition.

Bob politely credits me with "subtlety" (sc. hair-splitting) in distinguishing "look down on" and "look down upon." Lewis correctly believes that on and upon mean the same thing. Using one, two or three prepositions in a row is not really rare in practice, nor is it unusual to have a preposition serve, when needed, as an adverb. Some of our prepositions result from the fusion of two prepositions, such as upon, or onto. There have been many times when my cat has jumped up onto the table, or just up on it. I don't think he has ever jumped upon it, but perhaps so.
In general, upon and on can be used interchangeably in meaning, but there are times when either the rhythm ("on" can never be an iamb) or the existence of a long-standing idiom or usage can propel you to choose one over the other. There is also the fact that "upon" sounds more Biblical, perhaps more oratorical. "He looked down upon his creation, and found it-disappointing." If someone has gotten up on his horse, you can say, "He leapt upon his horse." Or you can say, perhaps, "He jumped on his horse." Would you say "He leapt on his horse"? Would you say "He jumped upon his horse."? We aren't talking about meaning here, but about usage.

But back to "looked down on / looked down upon." Try this. "I had always felt an attraction to Lady Mary, but because of the difference in our station she naturally looked down on me. Then there was the time I went into the library, where she was standing on a low balcony, looking down on me." Can you, would you, substitute "looked down upon me" in the first instance? Can you, would you, substitute "looking down upon me" in the second?

It would be wrong to say that usage trumps meaning in this case, since the meaning is always the same. We have also discussed the meaning of "upon" in "Upon my honour." There is no doubt that it is an oath, at least in form. But can one substitute "On my honour" with the same connotation? We don't say "Pon my honour as a scout...." Nor do we say "On my honour, it's Cousin John! Really, it is!" SS