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ESL Story: The language of ups and downs

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There’s a very old joke about a lift operator who’s asked by a visitor whether he enjoys his work. And the lift operator replies: “Oh, I mustn’t complain, sir. It has its ups and downs, you know.” Well, as I said, it’s an old joke. But talking of ups and downs, it’s interesting to see how often they occur in expressions in English. Let me tell you a story about an experience I had in a lift, to illustrate their use.

Some years ago I’d applied for a job with a large manufacturing concern and had been selected for interview. I had been feeling rather down in the dumps, somewhat depressed, in my present job and with this piece of news it looked as though at long last things might be on the up and up, the situation might improve.

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The interview was scheduled for 3 in the afternoon and after enjoying a good meal I just had time to down a couple of whiskeys, to drink them up quickly, before setting out for my appointment. The nearer I got to the building, the more nervous I became as I realised that it was entirely up to me, it all depended on me, whether I was accepted or not. The interview was to take place on the tenth floor and this obviously meant using the lift since I certainly didn’t feel up to climbing the stairs, I didn’t have enough energy to walk up. As I pressed the button for the lift, I became aware of another man standing close behind me. He looked a very proud and conceited person, you know the sort that needs taking down a peg or two, as if he ought to be taught a lesson in humility. Still, I thought I’d be polite and as the lift doors opened, I let him go in first. This gesture seemed to go down well, was very acceptable to him, and he had the grace to thank me. It seemed we were both going to the tenth floor. And I stress ‘were going’ because between the 4th and 5th floor we suddenly came to a standstill. I was furious because just when it seemed there was a chance of my going up in the world, of getting a better job, I was sure I’d be stuck in the lift and miss the interview. The other man in the lift asked what was up, what the matter was, and I told him my reason for wanting to reach the tenth floor. In fact we had quite a chat for the next couple of hours. Somehow I didn’t quite trust him. I felt he was up to something, doing something that made me suspicious. I don’t mean he was up to no good, doing something dishonest, but his manner struck me as very inquisitive. Well, after ten minutes I thought it was time for action so I picked up the emergency telephone and spoke to a very surly engineer who sounded as if he had a down on everyone, disliked everybody. He was very tired he assured me since he had been up and doing, had been busy, since early that morning. I tried to pacify him but all my effort went down the drain, was a complete waste of time, since he refused to see my point of view. He’d be off home as soon as his spell of duty was almost up, was about to end, but he’d find someone to help us before he left. Whatever I did, he told me sharply, I wasn’t to go away – as if I could! Another hour passed and meanwhile Mr. Hopkirk and I, for such was the other man’s name, got down in earnest to, started seriously on the business of exchanging the stories of our lives. I began quite to like him. After all he was frank about himself. He told me how some years before he’d been down and out, without a job or prospects. The firm he’d worked for started to go downhill, was losing business rapidly, and he himself was soon down to his last penny, without any money. His family was convinced it was all up with him, that he’d no more chances of success, when he managed to get his present job. He was on the point of saying what that job was when the lift started moving and we were released. The other candidates had been forced to wait and when my turn came you can imagine my dismay when I found out that the chairman of the interview board was none other than Mr. Hopkirk. I really felt that I’d been sold down the river, thoroughly cheated but luckily I got the job on the strength of what Mr. Hopkirk called my ability to cope in an emergency. By the way the office in which I worked was on the third floor and needless to say I always used the stairs.

Dear Friend,
If you have any questions or comments regarding this essay, please post your answers on the forum here: Language of ups and downs.

Many thanks.

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Next:ESL Story: The language of praise

Author: Alan Townend


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