On the up and up

  • The idiom on the up and up­­—whose exact origins are mysterious, though it dates from the late 19th century, is likely American, and appears to come from sports betting—means (1) open and honest, legitimate; and (2) on the rise. Though some dictionaries emphasize one definition or the other (usually the first), the idiom is widely used in both senses.


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    Some writers hyphenate the last three words of the phrase—on the up-and-up—but there’s no good reason to do this.


    In most pre-1950 examples of on the up and up, the phrase means open and honest—for example:

    Expert boxing writers estimate 90 per cent of all fights are on the up and up. [Evening Independent (1938)]

    Other presidents have quizzed Judges before appointment to make sure they were on the up-and-up, notably Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. [The Day (1937)]

    A guy might be known as a square shooter, on the up and up, or he might be a rat. [Oxnard Daily Courier (1929)]

    But there are a few pre-1950 examples of on the up and up used to mean on the rise—for example:


    Country centres where industries have started are pleading for them, but with costs on the up and up and money hard to raise, extensions are difficult. [Sydney Morning Herald (1949)]

    But these examples are rare (and there are none easily found in U.S. sources), so the on the rise definition of on the up and up is probably a newer arrival.

    In 21st-century writing, the phrase is very often used to mean on the rise—for example:

    Twitter’s value is on the up-and-up … and up. [New York Magazine]

    Some areas of town still a no-go zone but things are on the up-and-up. [New Zealand Herald]

    This was a university on the up-and-up, I was told. Come and be part of it. [Las Vegas Sun]

    Yet the original sense is still used—for example:

    All that aside, Redd and others say they simply want to make sure the whole process is on the up and up. [Madison County Journal]

    Not to worry; certainly developers and builders can be trusted to do things completely on the up and up without much in the way of oversight. [The Gazette]

    Perry said he did independent auditing of the company in its heyday and that everything was on the up and up. [Houston Chronicle]


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