What Does On the Up and Up Mean?

On the Up and Up Meaning

Definition: 1) Honest and legal; 2) Rising or improving.

Origin of On the Up and Up

This expression originated in the latter half of the 1800s. Initially, the first definition, meaning legitimate, was more common. Starting around the mid-1900s, the second definition, meaning elevating one’s station, became more popular. Nowadays, both uses are very common.

One respected linguist, Geoffrey Nunberg, has written about his particular expression. He uses it as an example of a common expression with two totally different meanings.

He says that what makes it special is that many people are only aware of one of these meanings. Furthermore, many doubt that the new definition actually exists when they first learn of it, and instead assume that there is some mistake.

The exact etymology behind this expression is unclear. However, there are other terms related to up or above for something positive, and words related to down or below for something negative. For example, aboveboard also means legitimate, and underhanded means dishonest.

Aboveboard comes from gambling. People must keep their hands above the table when playing cards to make it harder to cheat. Some sources speculate that on the up and up may have come from gambling as well.

Examples of On the Up and Up

up and up definition In this dialogue, two employees are discussing their boss.

Deanna: Cecilia is doing something suspicious again.

Emily: What is it?

Deanna: I’m not totally sure, but she’s been having a lot of secret meeting with people who enter through the back of the building. I’m not sure everything is on the up and up. Maybe she is trying to steal from the company again.

meaning of up and up In the second example, two baseball players are discussing the good luck their team has been having.

Billy: Last year we had lost every single one of our games.

Angie: I know! This year we started winning a few games, and now we win almost every game. We’ve improved so much and we’re only getting better.

Billy: I know. Things are really on the up and up for us!

More Examples

This quote shows a denial of any wrongdoing. Accusers say that a prison is erasing reports of violence in order to maintain a better image. The person in the quote is claiming that all those reports are false.

  • “Everything is on video,” Gumusdere said. “Everything is on the up and up. I don’t know where all this is coming from. I can tell you one thing. Everything you have is wrong.” –New York Daily News

This excerpt is about making sure that political donations are not breaking any laws.

  • To ensure that the private contributions that trigger public support are on the up and up, donors are simply asked to certify that their contributions are kosher under law. –New York Daily News

This excerpt shows the second definition, meaning on the rise.

  • “Bed-Stuy is on the up and up for black-owned businesses, but Brownsville is struggling,” Upsher said. “The rent is not affordable and businesses are shutting down. We want to put money back into Brownsville. –New York Daily News

Summary

The phrase on the up and up can mean either that something is legitimate or that something is improving.

[i]
[i]