Back East
Posted: 08 June 2010 07:59 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Seems to me, from my absorption of US culture, that this phrase has connotations for Americans beyond the obvious meaning. I hear it a lot more often than back west, say, or back north. But perhaps that’s just because more people were formerly east.

Anyway, I welcome your comments.

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Posted: 08 June 2010 08:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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No special insight, English as I am, but I should think this would be a natural construction for a people that constantly migrated westward.

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Posted: 08 June 2010 08:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I don’t actually hear the phrase all that often, but OP is certainly correct that it is an idiom in the way that “back north” and “back west” are not. But I don’t see much to it beyond what aldi points out.  Historically, the general trend of migration in the US (especially of the English-speaking culture) has been from east to west, and I think that accounts for the idiom.

(corrected typo)

[ Edited: 09 June 2010 09:01 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 08 June 2010 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Then there’s “down east” (as in the Griffith movie), which, paradoxically, seems to refer to Maine, which is about as up as one can get in the contiguous continental U.S.

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Posted: 08 June 2010 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It does not refer to Maine, it refers to the coastal area of Maine. The Wikipedia article says:

The Down East, The Magazine of Maine FAQ explains the origin of the term: “When ships sailed from Boston to ports in Maine (which were to the east of Boston), the wind was at their backs, so they were sailing downwind, hence the term ‘Down East.’ And it follows that when they returned to Boston they were sailing upwind; many Mainers still speak of going ‘up to Boston,’ despite the fact that the city lies approximately 50 miles to the south of Maine’s southern border.”

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Posted: 08 June 2010 11:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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"Up north” is a similar construction in the UK.  It has emotional (for us northerners) undertones of ... well, of not being quite “up” to “down south”.

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Posted: 09 June 2010 08:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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We have “up north” and “down south” in the U.S., too, but our North has historically been considered more sophisticated than our South.

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Posted: 09 June 2010 08:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Perhaps Boston just shares the linguistic height of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

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Posted: 09 June 2010 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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jtab4994 - 09 June 2010 08:12 AM

We have “up north” and “down south” in the U.S., too, but our North has historically been considered more sophisticated than our South.

Up North in my neck of the woods (Wisconsin, USA) means several things. Rustic vacation area, bars and restaurants with animal heads on the walls, and way too many Chicago Cubs fans.
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Posted: 09 June 2010 10:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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As a point of information, I was born and raised in California.  The expression “back East” was perfectly standard, if somewhat vaguely defined.

I now live in Maryland, where we have the “eastern shore”.  There once was a “western shore,” but that expression is rarely if ever used nowadays.  They originally referred to the two shores of the Chesapeake Bay, but “eastern shore” can now be extended to include the entire Maryland portion of the Delmarva Peninsula.

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Posted: 09 June 2010 02:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Londoners living in the East End speak of going up West when they’re heading for a night out in the West End. We had a good thread on the old forum about the geographical uses of up and down in the US and UK but I can’t locate it at present.

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Posted: 10 June 2010 06:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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The expression “back East” was perfectly standard

And out West is the corollary. Even in the West you hear out here in California or out here in the West. Probably goes back to the waves of Anglo immigration from the East to the West.

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