Short shot #30: up and Adam

Over on his blog, John McIntye posted a little while back (December 6) on editing slip-ups in various newspapers, including this one from the NYT:

It is the breakfast hour, the day before Thanksgiving and the lobby is busy with clean-looking families who are up and Adam, ready to set off in their varsity-letter jackets and Rockports for some holiday shopping, maybe a show. (link)

Eggcorn Forum contributor Jill caught this one too. And it turned out that there already was a thread there on up and Adam for up and at ’em, focusing on whether the expression was an eggcorn. Certainly, you can google up lots of hits for it, and some of them look like intentional puns, but many do not. For the latter, the question is whether up and Adam is just a demi-eggorn (in which an opaque expression is interpreted as containing some familiar material, even if that doesn’t make full sense) or a straightforward eggcorn (with Adam contributing meaning to the whole).

It’s probably a demi-eggcorn for many people who use it, but some of the forum contributors reported having rationalized it as involving a reference to be biblical Adam, as in this commen from charsnyder:

There was imagery for me. I didn’t know much about Adam and Eve but I’d seen the Michelangelo painting segment where God’s finger is sort of commanding Adam to “get up”. I wasn’t sure about Adam and didn’t think “up and Adam” meant it was an exhortation to DO anything, but just to sort of “spring forth” into the world. So that made some sense in terms of my Mom wanting me to get out of bed.

The impulse is fairly strong not only to see meaningful elements in partially opaque expressions, but also to make the whole expression meaningful. So one person’s demi-eggcorn can be another person’s full eggcorn. Chris Waigl reported on ADS-L on August 16 about another case:

I was mentioning B-line [for bee-line] as a very questionable eggcorn to an interested friend a while ago, and she surprisingly said she used to think it came from the letter B, thinking of the vertical line in it as the very image of a straight line. So this is just to show (once more, after many times) the subjective nature of making sense of some lexical item.

(There are also hits for up and atom, not all of them plays on words. I am of course reminded of the 1960s television cartoon The Atom Ant Show, the motto for which was “up and at ’em, Atom Ant”. There was also a later computer game Up and Atom, Atom Ant.)

9 Responses to “Short shot #30: up and Adam”

  1. mollymooly Says:

    In “The Simpsons”, “up and atom” is Radioactive Man’s catchphrase, which Rainier Wolfcastle, with misplaced Teutonic precision, hyperenunciates “up and at them”.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    Two follow-ups:

    (1) The at ’em –> Adam conversion will work best in (American) dialects with intervocalic flapping of t/d.

    (2) Independent of this, the reduction of them to ’em is close to obligatory in this idiom. (There are other idioms with casual-speech variants in them.)

  3. Chris Waigl Says:

    On a side note, I am still slightly taken aback each time I hear an AmE speaker in a technology audio or video cast mention “the Adam processor” as one of the most significant developments of the last years. Why have I never heard of it? Oh, he (most of the time “he”) means the *Atom* processor (which is used in most of the inexpensive netbooks currently available).

    In the varieties of English I’m mostly surrounded with, Adam and atom are impossible to confuse: the second has a rounded vowel and secondary stress on the second syllable, in addition to the [t(h)].

  4. Chris Waigl Says:

    P.S.: Where would you draw the line between such demi-eggcorns and what you call pails?

    Maybe it is that for the demi-eggcorn, the sense can be forced into the reshaped form, even if it sounds rather artificial, while a pail is just latching onto the nearest spelling that corresponds to an existing word.

    It’s a common topic of contention.

  5. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Chris Waigl: in this posting, I treated pails as one type of demi-eggcorns.

  6. Kem Luther Says:

    A further discussion of b-line semantics is at

    “Pail” is an eggcorn for some speakers:

  7. The Grammarphobia Blog » Blog Archive » Up and Adam? Says:

    […] an eggcorn? I won’t spoil the suspense. For an answer, check out the linguist Arnold Zwicky’s blog, where he discussed whether it’s an eggcorn, a demi-eggcorn (don’t ask), or some other […]

  8. Valentime’s Day « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] up and Adam for up and at ‘em (link) […]

  9. Go play Says:

    I stand corrected, happily, as I prefer proper usage.
    I always thought it was Adam, as a reference to being first, or the beginning of the next thing.

    Funny and true how the mind searches for logical explanations when there is a lack of knowledge.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: