“Turn up”

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Google Ngram showing use of “turned up early” and “showed up early” between 1975 and 2008. Yellow line: U.S. “showed up.” Red line: British “turned up.” Green line: British “showed up.” Blue line: U.S. “turned up.”

I refer to the intransitive verb that basically means “to appear,” possibly unexpectedly, and that can refer to a person, thing or concept (and not to the transitive form, e.g, “The search turned up a few artifacts” or “She turned up her nose and the cuffs of her jeans.”) I think of it as a Britishism mainly, I suppose, because there’s such a common and reliable U.S. equivalent: show up.

The Google Ngram above, which shows the relative popularity of showed up early and turned up early  in the U.S. and Britain between 1975 and 2008 (the last year for which data is available), pretty much supports my sense. ( I stuck the early in there to avoid false positives in the transitive and other forms.) So does the OED, which reports turn up as having turned up very early in the eighteenth century. The dictionary cites an 1863 British newspaper report: “The Police have been astonished lately at the number of criminals who have turned up of whose previous career they knew nothing…” And the phrase was used memorably by  Dickens in David Copperfield:   “‘And then,’ said Mr. Micawber,..‘I shall, please Heaven, begin to be beforehand with the world,..if—in short, if anything turns up.’”

As for show up, the first citation is from the Lisbon (Dakota) Star, 1888: “Will Worden is expected to show up next week.”

The verb without up can mean the same thing, most often used as a negative or interrogatory. (“Did he show?” “Nope, he didn’t show.”) That’s certainly a popular slangy alternative in the U.S., but it didn’t originate here, according to the OED, which quotes Theodore Hook, The Parson’s Daughter (1833): “The breakfast party did not assemble till noon, and then Lady Katherine did not ‘shew.’” I reckon that was the source for the eventual U.S. show up.

Anyway, if and when Ngram offers data beyond 2008, I predict it will show a sharp uptick in U.S. turned up. My ears feel it has become the preferred alternative among the chattering classes. I was writing this on November 30 and found four separate uses in the N.Y Times that day:

  • “…John McGraw’s futile attempt to trump the Yankees by finding a Jewish version of ‘the Babe.’ An exhaustive search turned up a prospect named Mose Solomon, likened in the press to an exotic animal. (‘McGraw Pays 50K for Only Jewish Ballplayer in Captivity.’)”
  • “Two months later, though, Barnum turned up in Tennessee and, in June 1865, he signed an oath of allegiance to the federal government.”
  • Books that writer Joe Queenan keeps as gags “mostly turned up over the transom at jobs I used to work at. ‘Hoosier Home Remedies’ is my favorite.”

And finally, this immortal sentence: “If Kristen Holly Smith turned up to your costume party in Dusty Springfield drag and started singing, there would be no mistaking the woman she was channeling.”

13 thoughts on ““Turn up”

  1. I have a feeling that this phrase originates from the world of playing cards, where a card would be turned face-up to reveal the value. From that, I think we derive the phrase “A turn-up for the books” which refers to a notable and unexpected event; indeed, when using “turn up” we (Brits) are often suggesting a small element of surprise related to the arrival.

  2. My (Brit) perception is that the dropping of “up” after “show” is largely American usage. A Brit, if using “show”, is more likely to say, “Did he show up?”.

    Also, in your first example of 30th November, “turned up” is being used as a transitive verb with the meaning “uncovered”.

  3. Interestingly, many hotels, restaurants, clubs etc. have a no-show policy for customers who fail to turn up to their booking.

  4. I’m tempted to say that in my world people show up while inanimate objects turn up; but with some thought, I may be able to turn up some counter-examples. I would also note that horses regularly win, place, or show.

    1. No “show” in UK betting. “Place” can include up to the first four horses, depending on the number of runners.

  5. So, ignoring what’s supposed to be the meal here (ie turned up vs showed up) should “it’s a right turn-up!” be hyphenated? I agree the elemental emotion is “wotta surprise!”

  6. “Turned up her nose” – “snooty disdain”. THANKS PETER. Why didn’t I catch it! Obviously a trolI to see how long it took for someone to pounce. Congrats.

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