Listen up
Posted: 08 October 2013 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve always connected this construction with the US military and indeed OED confirms that it originated in the US Armed Forces. It offers however no corroborating evidence for the assertion and the first cite listed is from a novel published in 1970. I was pretty sure that could be easily pre-dated and sure enough Google Book Search turned up several promising cites.

This one, for instance, from 1933, a book called Under The Goal Posts by Eddie Dooley. It gives 2 relevant excerpts:

p.7 His big underslung jaw assumed a deliberate angle. His sharp eyes scanned the faces of his charges. “Listen up!” he barked.

p.8 Charlie-horses or no Charlie-horses, from now on you’re gonna go, go, go until we take Sanford, or my name’s not McBrair. We start right now ... right here. Listen up now and get these assignments.

We’re quite clearly in the arena of sports here rather than the military, although it’s quite possible of course that the construction originated earlier in the services. I just wondered upon what basis the OED could make such a categorical assertion. Is there anything on the phrase in the specialist dictionaries?

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Posted: 08 October 2013 09:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I just wondered upon what basis the OED could make such a categorical assertion.

Nobody’s perfect

;-)

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Posted: 09 October 2013 03:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I wouldn’t dismiss the OED’s contention that the phrase originated in the military simply based on a few citations from a sports context.  The notion that a 1930’s era college football coach had been in the military in WWI is far from unreasonable.  There’s certainly more research to be done here.

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Posted: 09 October 2013 03:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Although in this case I would say the OED is wrong. The entry that includes the phrase is from the 1997 Additions series, which predates Google and any extensive digital corpora. The editors are clearly drawing the military connection from the citations they have on file. Also, the OED’s earlier collection efforts focused on Britain, giving North America and other places where English is spoken short shrift, so the older editions often miss non-British uses and citations. (I’m not trying to dis the OED, which is a phenomenally excellent resource, but knowing the limitations of one’s research tools is important.)

I’m not sure I’d pin it on sports, either. Listen up is a pretty general-purpose phrasal verb. Sports might be an early target for recording the usage, which obviously is primarily oral, because coaches’ speeches are good targets for being written down.

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Posted: 09 October 2013 11:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I wonder when it was popularized in the UK? I can’t recall hearing it before 1980.

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Posted: 09 October 2013 11:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Perhaps the most surprising thing about “listen up” is that it should have arisen, apparently, so recently. “Up” has long been used as a sort of intensifier for a whole lot of verbs: speak up, pay up, shrivel up, wake up, ‘fess up, own up, cover up....I’m sure there are more.  Its use in that way is certainly equally appropriate to a sports coach or to a military instructor.

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Posted: 09 October 2013 01:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I found it particularly irritating last year to receive a series of unsolicited ‘robo-calls’ that began with “Listen up!” shouted by an apparently male voice. It was speaking rapidly enough that I actually heard the exclamation point before I could depress switchhook on several occasions. I marvelled that anyone anywhere would respond positively to such an obnoxious barrage.

I think I’ve heard the phrase throughout my life, mainly in group situations: school bands, youth groups, sports teams, etc.

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