Give It Up vs. Applaud

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks,

Lately, I hear announcers introducing acts by saying GIVE IT UP FOR, rather than  LET’S HAVE A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR. Is this a new expression?

The verb give/gave/given has been in the English vocabulary for more than a thousand years. The earliest OED citation is from Beowulf:

Beowulf 1719 Nallas beagas geaf Denum æfter dome.

Note: The reference is to Heremod, a Danish king who did not honor his men by giving them treasure as custom required. A literal translation of this example is “Not at all rings gave [he] to the Danes for honor.”

The OED entry for give requires more than a hundred items to clarify the various ways in which this verb is or has been used throughout the centuries. The expression “give it up for so-and-so” is just one of the verb’s more recent uses.

The earliest OED citation for “give it up” in the sense of “applaud,” dated 1990, is from a Web source:

Hey folks, let’s give it up for Andy! One huge round of applause please!— Re: ShrinkIt 3.0 in comp.sys.apple2 (Usenet newsgroup).

The basic meaning of give is “to make another person the recipient of something in the possession of the giver.” When an audience is asked “to give it up” for a speaker or performer, they are being asked to show appreciation by applauding. In this way, they give their approval.

An earlier expression referring to the act of applauding links give with hand. At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow) asks for applause this way:

Give me your hands, if we be friends: And Robin shall restore amends.

Audiences are said to “give a hand” to performers. Performers hope to “get a big hand” from their audiences. No one seems to mind such established circumlocutions for applaud, but the latest expression provokes annoyance:

Does anybody else hate the expression, “give it up” for whoever it is instead of just clapping? It drives me mad.

Oh, I must say that I hate the recent, Put your hands together for. Or the even more egregious, Let’s give it up for

“Give it up” annoys me too. I hate this new age talk, it just sounds lazy.

I hate “give it up for [so-and-so]” when announcers introduce entertainment acts.

Love it or hate it, “give it up for” in the sense of “please applaud” has caught on with large numbers of speakers.

Note to ESL learners: In some contexts, “give it up” or “give up” can also mean surrender, abandon, and quit:

The house is completely surrounded. You might as well give it up.

Eventually he took a huge risk and gave himself up to the Chicago police.

Unable to overtake the planes, he gave up the chase three miles from his own lines.

How many people do something just once and are ready to give up? 

Give it up! You can’t win.

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5 Responses to “Give It Up vs. Applaud”

  • ApK

    I certainly have my own long list of pet peeves, but it really seems like some people just hate any form of expression they did not grow up with, and just want English to stay in stasis forever.

    We “give” accolades, approval, we “give” rounds of applause, so it’s no great stretch to imagine what the “it” is in this expression, and since we offer “up” lots of stuff, including praise, and since performers are frequently “up” on a stage above the audience, it’s no stretch to understand the “up” either, so what’s people’s problem?

    Do they really want us to only say “Let’s clap for this person.” How newspeakish!

  • James

    “Give it up” and “Put your hands together” both were spread within and popularized by the African American community. It’s my experience (as a young white guy who grew up in Texas) that crotchety old people don’t like new slang, but they ESPECIALLY don’t like new slang if rappers use it. My dad’s been railing against “Give it up” since he first heard it on Arsenio Hall back in the early nineties.

  • thebluebird11

    Agree with ApK. My first thought upon reading this was, Do you really want the MC (emcee, whatever) to say, “Now is the time to applaud” or “Please clap your hands now”? How silly! I would prefer what they used to do in cartoons and silent movies, when someone held up a sign that said “Applause”! There are other ways of asking an audience to show appreciation; for example, if a person/act is first coming out, the MC could say, “Please welcome…” and I think people are smart (and polite) enough to figure out that it’s the cue to clap. At the end of most speeches and performances, people know to clap. So I don’t even know why MCs feel the need to ask people to applaud or “give it up.” For the times that no applause is desired, usually they will tell the audience to hold applause until the end, and for very somber occasions, applause would be considered inappropriate. But I digress. The point is, IMHO there are way more important things to get peeved about.
    @James: Since you mentioned that these expressions may have come to mainstream by way of the African American community, I am wondering if some of these expressions come from black gospel-type church services? I am white and Jewish so I admit I haven’t been to many gospel-type church services, but I have been to a few, and sometimes the preacher has said things like, “Put your hands together and praise the Lord.” In regular prayer services, putting one’s hands together would be viewed as a typical prayer pose (supplication), but in gospel services it means clapping.

  • Steve

    “Got to Give It Up” is a classic by the 70s soul singer Marvin Gaye, but “it” is not applause but instead it’s his encourage for a wallflower to let loose. The artists behind 2013’s “Blurred Lines” were sued for plagiarism because the songs sound vaguely similar.

    The Bird and the Bee released a clever near-parody called “Polite Dance Song” in which they encourage the listener ” would you please clap your hands” and “I beg of you to get up and dance.”

  • Agua Caliente

    I have been wrestling with whether to add an additional, sinister usage for “give it up” here. I’ll say only that the usage I refer to is not something you want to hear after being approached on a dark, deserted street. The tone of such an utterance would be much different from the same request made of an audience at a musical event.

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