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11 Comments

  • That’s an interesting read Gill. I’m glad that advertisers are brought to heel about how they use “up to”, but I wonder if there are any other up-tos that affect our lives? (Judges in courts might sentence a murdererer to “at least 25 years” in jail, but they don’t yet use “up to”.)

  • You’re right – they often say ‘a minimum of 25 years’, but not ‘up to’ as far as I know, and certainly not ‘as little as’.

    There have been cases outside advertising, where ‘up to’ claims are challenged. Earlier this month, the Babyjabs website was ordered to remove their claim that the 3-in-1 MMR injection may be causing “up to 10%” of autism in children in the UK. (Source: BBC News Health). It was actually the Advertising Standards Authority that made this ruling, though I’m not sure why this sort of website is in their remit. I’m glad someone does it, as these ‘Jabs’ websites often communicate a very biased view of reality.

  • “up to”; here’s a thing: a writer in the Guardian Blog, Occam’s Corner, says “A-level results not up to scratch?”:
    “scratch”, a wonderfully useful nebulous upper limit. Someone else complains that their “wireless broadband not up to scratch”. That’s the way the consumer complains about advertisers expectations not being met, they don’t have to quote figures, they know what “normal circumstances” are, and if the claims don’t “cut the mustard” they just say “not up to scratch”: are the claims of the shampoo advertisement “up to scratch”?

  • I love all this stuff, but in my day to day teaching in Mexico it’s completely useless. I’d love to say ‘What have you been up to? in order to teach it, but when ‘What is your name?’ generally gets blank looks all round, it’s simply academic. And I’m not talking about ‘low-level’ classes, every class is low-level. So all this fascinating stuff (no irony intended) is useless in developing countries.

  • To Sean and other teachers who may feel this stuff is somehow too ‘advanced’:
    I’ve been thinking about your comment and of course you know your students and what they are capable of. But I don’t entirely agree that all of this fascinating stuff is irrelevant to them, or too difficult. I mean, you say ‘how are you?’ with a particular intonation in a specific situation, and they learn it as a fixed phrase – they don’t necessarily know that ‘how’ is a wh-word, ‘are’ is the present simple of ‘be’ etc,

    So surely if you say ‘What’ve you been up to?’ or ‘How are things?’ with the same sort of intonation, and in an informal meeting and greeting situation, and you indicate that it has the same sort of meaning as ‘How are you?’, then the students could say it a few times before picking it up in one piece and running with it – say it to someone else instead of ‘How are you?’ You could unpick the phrase later if you wanted to, and say that ‘be/are up to’ etc is like ‘do’ in some contexts. Phraseology is so important – a huge amount of what we say consists of semi-fixed (pre-constructed) strings of various degrees of fixedness.

    Secondly, I can suggest two things I’d do in a classroom with ‘up to’ in the sense I talked about in the blog.
    1) Make sure the students know the verb ‘save’ – it’s high-frequency and prominent in ads etc (though we have only recently learnt that the more we spend the more we save). Then give lots of examples of save + preposition + amount, e.g ‘Save up to 30%’, ‘Save as much as 30%’, ‘Save approximately 30%’, ‘Save more than 30%’. You could do the same with ‘pay’, too – ‘Pay as little as’, ‘Pay less than’ etc.

    All these phrases are explained simply and clearly in freely-available online dictionaries like Macmillan, and in learner’s dictionaries generally. Put the phrases into a real day-to-day context, and get the students to discuss which is the most attractive offer.

    2) Maybe this is a bit harder, but everyone needs to know how to talk about amounts, however little English they know. Again they can learn these expressions in chunks to save time – there’s a lot of phraseology involved. So, with ‘up to’ you get things like ‘up to twice/five times as much’, ‘up to 10%’ ‘up to 250%’, ‘up to 75% more’ and so on. All that ‘up to’ does here is to provide a framework for introducing these phrases; you could use a less vague preposition instead. And they are concepts that people have in their own language and probably need to understand.

    I think maybe there is no easy language or difficult language, only useful language. And students need to recognise what they hear. A student once asked me what ‘lendahan’ meant – he wrote it down thus. He know that that’s what his neighbour said when asking him to help with something, so quickly got the point when I put the spaces in and added a ‘d’ – again it’s a worldwide social act, and he’d just learned one of the ways the English do it. He then quickly got the hang of ‘do me a favour’ too. (Sorry for the long spiel; you just woke up one of the bees dozing off in my bonnet.)

  • An even finer example of advertising-speak is “up to 20% or more”, which means literally nothing; either the figure is less than or equal to 20% (“up to”) or it is greater than 20% (“more”), so relating them with “or” is a tautology.

  • Yes! I resisted the temptation to talk about this; it means in theory that in a line like “it is possible to build up to 3,900 nozzles or more on a single print head”, the figure 3,900 is completely arbitrary. In theory only, of course, since someone did mean something – probably this is a blend of ‘up to 3,900’ and ‘3,900 or more’,

  • Stan: That’s clever – at first I thought you meant this was a serious mediaeval calculation – but no, the mediaeval scholars figured out the number of angels was “up to numberless or more”.