Shoulder up!

At the beginning of the school year, The Superintendent of Schools for Hartford exhorted the district’s employees to Shoulder up! That’s the theme for the year, she said. The following week, the President of the University of Hartford adopted Shoulder up! as a motto as well. In a recent memo, he asks everyone to Jump in, speak up, shoulder up, and reach out to the students.

Searching the web, COCA and Google Books convinces me that the exhortation shoulder up is not a common one. I’m not saying that Ms. Torres-Rodriguez invented it, but I had never heard it. I assume that it is intended to be an ungendered version of man up or cowboy up, with the extra connotation of shoulder-to-shoulder. Superintendent Torres-Rodriguez said, “Together our families, our teachers, our staff and our partners, including community, faith-based, higher education and businesses are all standing shoulder to shoulder.” I don’t personally like military metaphors for education, but they are fairly common; still, the OED lists the use of shoulder as a verb for standing shoulder-to-shoulder is obsolete, and before its obsolescence it wasn’t used with up. The only uses of shoulder up in the OED refer to inanimate objects—one could say that the hill shoulders up steeply or that a wall shoulders up the roof.

My own connotation with the phrase shoulder up is as part of the larger phrase shoulder up to the bar, with the connotation of shoulder in the sense of roughly pushing through a crowd. That’s just me, though; no-one else I’ve spoken to made that connection. Nor do I expect anyone else to connect the phrase with shoulder arms, which connotes to me a reluctance to engage—that’s the cricket use, anyway, but in military drill, too, you can’t fire a gun which is shouldered. But that’s not what Ms. Torres-Rodriguez was referring to, was it?

No, eventually I figured out what Ms. Torres-Rodriguez was referring to, or at least I think I did, and it’s something I know well but didn’t bring to mind: the lyrics to “Ain’t That Good News”.

I’ve a crown in the Kingdom
Ain’t that good news
I’ve a crown up in the Kingdom
Ain’t that good news

I’m going to lay down this world
Going to shoulder up my cross
Goin’ to take it home to Jesus
Ain’t that good news


Join the Conversation