Microspeak: lift up

Raymond Chen

Today’s Microspeak is the verb phrase “lift up”. Here’s a citation:

[After a long detailed discussion.] I want to lift up a little and talk about why this is important.

I didn’t know what this intransitive sense of lift up meant, and there wasn’t too much context here to work from, so I hunted around for other citations. The vast majority of uses were transitive, with the unsurprising meaning of “to raise”. But buried among the results were a few intransitive uses:

It was useful to sit down and lift the discussion to the Western Europe level, not just the Germany level. This is a good way to lift up to take a broader view.

From context, it appears that lift up means “to take a higher-level view”. The next example seems to confirm this sense:

Don’t start by going into detail about the new offering. Lift up a level and start by discussing how the new offering fits the overall strategy.

The word level is not a direct object of lift up; it’s telling you how much to lift up, not what to lift up. The implication is that you are lifting yourself: When you lift up, you are taking a higher-level view of the situation to see how the pieces fit together.

The final citation I could find takes a somewhat different approach to the phrase lift up:

A team might be heads-down executing on their plan and can’t lift up to consider what to do next.

This contrasts lift up with heads-down,¹ and suggests that the implied direct object is head: The team is so focused on executing their plan that they can’t lift up their heads to consider what to do next.

It appears that lift up means different things depending on context. It could mean to shift the discussion to a higher-level topic, or it could mean to disengage momentarily from an all-consuming task

¹ The metaphor for heads-down is students hard at work, hunched over their desk, so that their heads are buried in their books and they are consequently unaware of their surroundings.

² Interestingly, the first and last citations both came from the same person, suggesting more strongly that lift up has multiple valid interpretations, and you need to pick the intended one from context.


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