Swan Upping
Posted: 02 June 2013 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve just seen a documentary about the Queen’s swan uppers and swan upping. One presumes the “upping” comes from “round up” but I’ve never seen the word before in that context. I think I’ve only heard it used in the sense of raising as in “upping the stakes” or “upping the rent.” I’ve certainly never heard of cattle upping. Is “upping” used in the “rounding-up” sense peculiar to this particular office and ceremony?

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Posted: 02 June 2013 09:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The very first sense of “up” as a verb in the OED is “to drive up and catch (swans, etc.) so as to provide with the mark of ownership”, and the first quote it gives is “For uppyng the ground byrde in porte meade”, from 1560-1, so the answer appears to be “not necessarily exclusively used for catching and marking swans”. But today I suspect the usage is, indeed, pretty much restricted to catching and marking “large web-footed swimming birds of the genus Cygnus”.

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Posted: 02 June 2013 09:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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According to the OED, the word is only used with swans and refers to catching and marking the ownership of the swans. It dates to the mid-sixteenth century. The dictionary doesn’t give the semantic origin, but I guess that it comes from the sense of up meaning “into the possession of someone” (usually found in phrasal verbs, like take up or give up.

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Posted: 02 June 2013 10:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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SWAN SONG

I’m headin’ for the last swan up

Gonna saddle old bike for the last time and ride,

To the faraway Pond, to the Boss on the meade

Where the strays are counted and branded, there I go

I’m headin’ for the last swan up

Git along, little Cygnus, git along……….…

(edit:corrected typo)

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