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TWTS: Take your best upshot

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There are upshots and upsides, and there can be upsides to upshots. For some speakers, upshots can even be upsides.

One of our listeners has noticed people using "upshot" as a synonym of "upside," to refer to something positive. We can't say that we've noticed this particular usage, but we're certainly going to keep it on our radar.

The term "upshot" comes from archery. The Oxford English Dictionary dates it back to 1531, when it referred to the final shot in an archery match. However, in the 1500s and 1600s, there were other meanings floating around including a figurative closing or final shot.

An "upshot" could also refer to "a mark or end aimed at," be it literal or figurative. The OED notes this meaning is now obsolete and offers this example from 1754: "The upshot of all religion is to please God." Around the same time, you can find "upshot" used to refer to the end of something.

The meaning of upshot that we're familiar with today -- the result or conclusion of some course of action -- appears in the 1600s. Here's an example from a column that appeared on NPR's website in 2020, near the beginning of New York's pandemic lockdown:

"One of the upshots of spending all my time in my apartment is that my ears have become attuned to the shifting soundscape of my neighborhood, and each sound elicits a different emotional response in me than it used to."

Though we haven't noticed people using "upshot" synonymously with "upside," others have. In its entry for "upshot," Grammarist lists the traditional definitions, but it also says "upshot" is now commonly used to mean "advantage" or "benefit." It lists several examples, including this blog entry from 2012, about former pro hockey player Michael Leighton: "The biggest upshot of using Leighton is that he comes no frills attached."

There's another usage issue worth discussing which is whether there can be a "final upshot." Some commentators consider this phrase redundant, along with "final result" and "final outcome."

Professor Anne Curzan isn't totally convinced on this one.

"If we think about something like 'outcomes,' there can be preliminary outcomes, in which case you'd want to know the final outcomes. I think you can make the same argument about 'upshot,' that there can be early upshots and a final upshot."

What do you think? Hit us with your best upshot.

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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of Weekend Edition at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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