After an impromptu search in the SpecGram library, we were surprised but elated to find a batch of additional Platonic dialogues on linguistic matters. Plato’s Socrates often passes the time on trivial matters of ethics, justice and all that jazz. Happily for us, the discoveries in the library are all linguistical. Here, then, in a world first publication, is Plato’s Mabel.
Leonida: ... which would tend to suggest the a-transpositonality of the soul under those circumstances.
Xenophiles: Unless, as Antipater has written, the soul is creamy in consistency and therefore can pass easily through narrow apertures between the rocks of the underworld. Moreover, ...
Socrates: Time for me to pull rank.
Leonida: Sorry, what?
Socrates: Enough on the soul already. It’s been five-
Xenophiles: Socrates, Leonida has travelled for three days to talk with us on the question of the consistency and colour of the soul, and whether it takes weekends off or not. We haven’t seen her for over 18 months and now you wanna call time on the topic.
Socrates: In a word, yes.
Xenophiles: Man, what’s up with you?
Leonida: I’m forced to agree.
Socrates: Listen, it’s nothing personal of course. I love you to bits Lea. Your Discourses on the Pleasures of Yoghurt got me into this philosophy gig, as you know. I’m just looking for something a bit more empirical today, I guess.
Leonida: Empirical? Empiricism’ll never catch on, Sozzy; you know that.
Socrates: Well, maybe. But it’s nice for a change. For example, take what you said a moment ago, Xenoph.
Xenophiles: What was that? What did I say?
Socrates: ‘What’s up?’
Xenophiles: Did I?
Socrates: Yep! ’Bout 40 seconds ago.
Leonida: I think you did as it happens.
Xenophiles: So what?
Socrates: Well, it’s an interesting turn of phrase, no?
Xenophiles: Is it?
Socrates: I think so.
Xenophiles: Yeah, why.
Socrates: Before answering, may I just remind you both that philosophy is at its best when it scrutinises the apparently familiar. This fascination with the soul is not only speculative in the extreme, but also avoids the familiar, the small, the apparently inconsequential. Is it not in these things that the best philosophy lies.
Leonida: Nice tangent, Sozzy. Any chance of an answer to the original question? What’s so cool with ‘What’s up?’.
Mabel: Hi guys!
Xenophiles: Hey, Mabel.
Socrates: Hi Mabel.
Mabel: So, what’s up?.
Socrates: I thought you were an atheist, Leonida. Which gods are those?
Leonida: Er, figure of speech, Socrates. As an avant-
Mabel: Wow, glad I said hi. We’re a bit sparky today.
Socrates: That’s philosophy, Mabel.
Mabel: Well, possibly. So anyway, what’s up?
Leonida: That’s kinda just what we were saying.
Mabel: Whadya mean?
Leonida: Socrates wants us to think about the phrase ‘What’s up?’ But he hasn’t yet told us why.
Mabel: Oh no!
Mabel: I’ve just remembered.
Mabel: I’ve gotta pick Paidion up from the Academy.
Xenophiles: It’s Thursday, Mabel.
Mabel: Oh, yes. So it is. My memory.
Socrates: How’s he doing by the way?
Mabel: Giving me five new grey hairs a day.
Leonida: That’s kids.
Socrates: You hardly speak from experience!
Leonida: I think I may have experience of kids even if I’ve never had one. Hate to be empirical about it but ...
Xenophiles: Say. Can we get back to ‘What’s up?’?
Leonida: Yes, please.
Xenophiles: So, what’s up with ‘What’s up?’?
Socrates: Is the floor mine?
Xenophiles: The floor is yours, Socrates.
Socrates: Thank you. So, in the course of the discourse, we’ve just (re)discovered that the phrase has at least two meanings, i.e. ‘What is wrong?’ and a generic greeting similar to ‘What’s new?’. However, it was not this phrasal ambiguity that caught my attention some moments ago.
Xenophiles: Go on.
Socrates: The issue for me is this: what does the ‘up’ mean?
Xenophiles: Well, isn’t the whole thing just a non-
Socrates: One might make this argument. However, there seem to me broader reasons to question the meanings of ‘up’.
Mabel: Let me jump in. I’m guessing, Sokry, that you might have in mind the various meanings of ‘up’ in phrasal verbs such as ‘give up on gambling’, ‘look up a new word’, ‘think up a clever answer’ and such like.
Socrates: My mate Mabel makes the magic happen. I’m on that kinda line of thinking, yes. Although in phrasal verbs the ‘up’ carries various meanings, no?
Leonida: Yes. For example, in ‘pick up’ and ‘lift up’ the ‘up’ does signify some kind of upwards movement.
Mabel: Or in ‘shore up’ and ‘be propped up’ we get an ‘upright but stationary kind of reading’.
Xenophiles: I’m liking this.
Socrates: Good to hear I can still engender interest in my friends.
Xenophiles: Not only philosophically, Soz. I love your games nights, as you know.
Socrates: Why thank you.
Mabel: And to jump back in, if I may, ‘up’, can also signify increase or improvement as in ‘jazz up’, ‘pep up’, ‘sex up’, ‘speed up’ and so forth.
Socrates: So there we go. ‘Up’ is polysemous in phrasal verb context. And this of course raises a ton, if not a tonne, of fairly complex questions. Polysemy is often predicated on the idea that there’s some kernel of more basic meaning of the lexeme from which others are derived.
Xenophiles: Right. So with ‘head’ we intuit that ‘uppermost part of the body’ is the first, primary, most basic, prototypical reference ...
Leonida: Those terms aren’t all necessarily synonyms, Xenoph.
Socrates: Good point.
Xenophiles: I know; I was just demonstrating my skill in online thesaurusisationalising.
Leonida: Er, what?
Xenophiles: Doesn’t matter. Let’s choose ‘prototypical’; ‘head’ prototypically means uppermost part of the body.
Xenophiles: And the other meanings are derived from it. ‘Head a ball’; ‘head off’; the headteacher’.
Socrates: Right again. But which of ‘up’ ’s various meanings is prototypical? It’s non-
Leonida: So what’s the answer?
Socrates: Another time; I wanna press on with another question.
Mabel: Just a quick heads up
Xenophiles: Up and at ’em, Sozzy.
Leonida: If you don’t let him speak, I’m gonna get pretty fed up soon.
Socrates: Ah, such fun. How we metalinguisticise our afternoons so merrily away.
Leonida: Sorry, for me that’s a bit awkward. Shouldn’t it be, ‘How we metalinguisticise our afternoon away so merrily’?
Socrates: Comments welcome.
Mabel: Get on with it! Stop distracting him. Up, up, up. What’s the punchline, Socrates?
Socrates: OK, OK. So, there’s a set of verbs which are non-
Mabel: Examples, rather; if there’s only one it’s hardly significant.
Socrates: Indeed. Examples abound, you’ll be happy to hear. Finish your tea ~ finish up your tea; wake the neighbours ~ wake up the neighbours; tie your shoelaces ~ tie up your shoelaces; feel the temple prostitute (male or female!) ~ feel up the temple prostitute; the wound healed ~ the wound healed up; close the shop ~ close up the shop; write the essay ~ write the essay up. And so on.
Leonida: Sit and sit up. No, they mean quite different things; and the latter is uprightness, isn’t it?
Socrates: I’d say so.
Xenophiles: I’d say up so.
Mabel: OK, nice. So, there’s a clear pattern there. The up is optional, the verb is literal in meaning and the meaning difference is narrow.
Socrates: Yes. And there is an identifiable meaning core.
Leonida: I’d say something to do with completion or accomplishment.
Mabel: Yes. And it’s just struck me. There’s also ‘sing up’ and ‘speak up’ which seem to mean ‘do it more’.
Xenophiles: What about ‘listen up’, which seems to mean ‘listen more intently’?
Leonida: And, going back to what Mabz just said, you can’t really say ‘shout up’ or ‘scream up’.
Socrates: I guess there’s some kind of block on those coz they’re already towards the end of some pole of semantic extremeness. And that brings us back to phrasal verbs proper with ‘pipe up’ which doesn’t mean ‘pipe more loudly’.
Socrates: Are you with me now on ‘up’? So when it comes to what’s up, at least for me, at the moment, it’s ‘up’.
Leonida: This is not my specialism, as you know; but I’m getting it. There’s at least as much complexity here as there is with the consistency of the soul.
Mabel: Well guys, It’s been nice to catch all three of you. I don’t think we’ve ever met all four of us before, have we?
Xenophiles: Weren’t we all at Metaphones’ villa warming party three years ago?
Leonida: Gosh, yes. I cringe at some of the things I got up to with Metaphones back in the day.
Mabel: We stayed up all night that night. And yes, we were all there.
Xenophiles: It took us three days to clear up afterwards. Embarrassing.
Mabel: And after that argument with Alexandra of Doncaster. I don’t think she and Metaphones have made up yet.
Socrates: At the risk of laboring the point, there’s been a verb with ‘up’ in the last four contributions to the discourse. QED!
Xenophiles: Enough with your futurism.
Mabel: Time’s up! That one was deliberate, Sox. I’m off. It’s been up-solutely fascinating.
Socrates: See you soon, Mabel. Best to Paidion and the girls.
Mabel: Thanks. Onwards and upwards.
Xenophiles: See you.
Xenophiles: She’s funny.
Socrates: The best.
Leonida: Agreed. Now, if we’ve spent enough time with up, can we get back to the soul? It is why I came over.
Socrates: Fair dos. I guess ‘up’ is up for today. But there’s stuff to say, huh.
Leonida: Yes. As there is in all philosophy.
Leonida: So, can I take us back to why male souls are heavier than female ones.
Socrates: I’m all ears, Lea!
Xenophiles: Me too.
Leonida: Great. Well, the primary argument is ...