Pull Up Stakes or Up Sticks – Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Have you ever heard of the phrase pull up stakes or pull up sticks? It might sound like I’m talking about a strange outdoor game, but these phrases have nothing to do with literal sticks or stakes. Instead, they encapsulate the idea of movement or change. So, let’s dive right in and uncover their meanings and origins while revealing which one is more correct to use.

Pull Up Stakes or Up Sticks?

Pull Up Stakes vs Pull Up Sitcks Ngram
Pull up stakes and pull up sticks usage trend.

You might be wondering whether to use pull up stakes or up sticks because both phrases are found in the English language. The good news is that both phrases mean the same thing, although pull up stakes is more common in American English, and pull up sticks is typically used in British English. So, pick your phrase according to your audience or whichever one you find more amusing!

I remember hanging out at my grandma’s house when I was a kid, and every time she got frustrated with things, she’d say, “I had a mind to pull up stakes and move away!” She obviously didn’t mean it; it was just her way of saying, “I’m so frustrated I could go live somewhere else.”

Meaning of Pull Up Stakes

Pull Up Stakes or Up Sticks Origin Meaning

Pull up stakes (or pull up sticks) refers to leaving your current home or place of operation, usually abruptly or on short notice, and moving to a new location. Imagine a wandering cowboy in an old western movie pulling up his tent stakes and moving on to the next town, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this phrase means.

Is It Pull Up Stakes or Pull-Up Stakes?

When it comes to pull up stakes or pull-up stakes, you might encounter both versions in the wild, but the more common and generally accepted format is without the hyphen—just pull up stakes. This is because the phrase is typically used as a verb phrase, where pull up is the action being done to the stakes. When you hyphenate pull and up, you create an adjective for stakes.

Origin and Etymology of Pull Up Stakes

Pull Up Stakes Ngram
Pull up stakes usage trend.

As you might have surmised from my analogy above, the phrase pull up stakes has an American origin and dates back to the 17th century when the first settlers set up in and around Jamestown. They’d build protective structures around their camps and homes called palisades. These were made of giant stakes driven into the ground, and when it was time to expand or move locations, they’d literally pull up the stakes and reuse at a new location.

Pull Up Sitcks Ngram
Pull up sticks usage trend.

Pull up sticks carries the same sort of meaning, but it originates from British English and might derive from the similar notion of packing up your belongings (including sticks used as spikes to hold down your tent) before moving.

Pull Up Stakes Synonyms

Looking for different ways to express the idea of moving or leaving? Here are a few that work just as well.

  • Relocate
  • Move on
  • Pack up and go
  • Hit the road
  • Decamp

Using Pull Up Stakes in a Sentence

Pull Up Stakes or Up Sticks Origin Meaning 1
  • After living in Edmonton for five years, John chose to pull up stakes and relocate to a quiet, coastal town in the Maritimes.
  • The company pulled up stakes and relocated its offices to a more central location that gave easier access to clients.
  • The thought of pulling up the stakes and starting afresh in a new country was both exciting and terrifying for Jane.
  • They had to pull up stakes abruptly due to the sudden transfer her husband received from the military.
  • I’ve always admired Candace and Corey’s adventurous spirit; they’re not afraid to pull up sticks and explore new places.

Gramma’s at Stake

This idiom beautifully encapsulates the human spirit of movement and change. Whether you’re planning to pull up stakes or are merely curious about the phrase, remember, it’s all about embracing new beginnings and the excitement that comes with it. Be sure to go read my other helpful grammar guides and tips on using idioms!