Pull up stakes and up sticks

The idioms pull up stakes and up sticks mean virtually the same thing but have different origins and are used in different corners of the world. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words, or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idioms pull of stakes and up sticks, where they came from, and some examples of their use in sentences.

To pull up stakes means to move residence, to go to live somewhere else, to go to work somewhere else. The idiom pull up stakes almost always means to change the place that one frequents, whether it is one’s home, job, or other place one visits frequently. The idiom pull up stakes seems to have originated in America during the 1600s. Some believe it has to do with moving a settlement’s palisade to another location. A palisade is made up of poles that are sharpened to a point at the top and placed as a barrier to outside attack around a settlement. Other believe pull up stakes is a reference to pulling up survey stakes. Pull up stakes is still primarily an American idiom. Related phrases are pulls up stakes, pulled up stakes, pulling up stakes.

To up sticks also means to move one’s residence, to pack up and move somewhere else. Up sticks is most often used to mean to move to a new home, but it may mean to pack up a campsite or a picnic. The origin of the term up sticks is uncertain. Many believe it is nautical slang, referring to raising a mast. Some believe it came from pulling pickets that tethered horses. Others believe it has to do with moving temporary dwellings. The idiom up sticks is used primarily in British English. Related phrases are ups sticks, upped sticks, upping sticks.


“Beyond the jobs that are lost and the families impacted by this decision, the township’s concern right now is if (GPI) were to just pull up stakes and leave, are they going to leave that contamination?” said Gloy, who recalled when the plant in its heyday employed 250 people. (The Sturgis Journal)

Although it was a difficult decision, the 1987 Gaston graduate felt the time was right to pull up stakes and head east. (The Gadsden Messenger)

The pair who recently ditched their sprawling Canada mansion to up sticks and move to America have hinted at the possibility of making another addition to their gorgeous family. (The Mirror)

The middle classes, accustomed to constant mobility while valorising the home as a place of comfort and safety, balk at the thought of being unable to up sticks at will. (The Guardian)

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