Five Ways to Look Up

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ESL learners have a tough row to hoe when they set themselves to learn English idioms.

Note: “to have a tough row to hoe” = “to have a difficult task to carry out.”

For example, each of the following sentences contains the verb look and the word up, but each conveys a different thought:

1. It’s a surprise! Keep your head down and don’t look up.
In this sentence, up functions as an adverb modifying the verb look. In this context, “to look up,” means, “to direct one’s gaze upward.”

2. Before you use an unfamiliar word, be sure to look up the meaning.
Here, “to look up” is a phrasal verb with the meaning “to search for an item of information, or seek information concerning (a person or thing), in a book or database, on the Internet, etc.”

3. Many youngsters look up to professional athletes.
In this context, “to look up to” is a phrasal verb meaning, “to have a great deal of respect for, to admire, venerate.”

4. While I’m in Chicago, I intend to look up my old college roommate.
This colloquial use of “to look up” means “to visit or contact a person, especially for the first time or after loss of contact.

5. My financial planner assures me that the economy is about to look up.
This idiom is most commonly used in the progressive tense: “Things are looking up.” The meaning is “improving, getting better.”

From the verb “look up” (to seek information) comes the noun lookup, a computer term meaning “the action or process of looking something up in a database.” Lookup is also used as a qualifier:

I often use the “Passage Lookup” to compare English translations from the NIV, ESV, NASB, and NKJV. 

The lookup feature allows you to quickly search your contact manager or PIM (personal information manager) for phone numbers to dial.

On my iPad, the lookup feature isn’t working right for certain entries.

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3 thoughts on “Five Ways to Look Up”

  1. Up gets used for a lot of things, and I’ve had to wonder how it came to be that way: fix up, mess up, tear up. I suppose these are all ways of expressing some state of completion or fulfillment.

  2. If I may offer an additional idea related to example #1…

    To “keep your head down” can also mean to avoid standing out in a crowd or drawing unwanted attention to oneself. In this context, “looking up” does have to do with directing one’s gaze, but also adds the implication that by doing so one will draw attention.

    As an example drawn from film, there is a scene in the final Harry Potter movie (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) in which Professor Snape has gathered the students to warn them that anyone who aids Harry will be punished. As he walks through the crowd, many of the students avoid eye contact by looking at the floor (i.e., they keep their heads down and don’t look up).

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