Thursday, September 28, 2006

Climb Up, Stay Up

Q. I'm annoyed by a mistake that I hear all the time. Years ago, an English teacher made it very clear that you can climb only one way: up. But I hear people saying things like, "Climb down from there." That's wrong, isn't it?

A. You had me worried for a minute, since I've been saying climb down since I was a youngster. I'm at a loss as to why your teacher was so adamant about this. The first few definitions do speak of rising, but in The American Heritage Dictionary, one of the examples is, "climbed down the ladder." Even the venerable Oxford English Dictionary balances one sense (to ascend) with the other (to descend by the same means).

It would appear that your teacher stopped reading after the first meaning, but when there are multiple meanings to a word, all of them must be factored in.

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