"Stand" vs. "Stand Up": What's The Difference?

What is the difference between “stand” and “stand up”?

Why do we use the phrase “stand up” at all? Is it really possible to stand in any other direction?

Actually, yes it is. You can stand down. You can stand aside. You can stand around.

Even so, isn't "up" the most obvious way to stand? In such cases, why don’t we just say “stand”?

When we use the word “stand” by itself (that is, when it’s not part of a phrasal verb like “stand up”), then we’re not emphasizing action. We’re emphasizing stability and consistency.

Consider the famous song “Stand” by REM, from their album Green, which came out in 1988.

The lyrics go:

Stand in the place where you live
Now face North
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven't before
Now stand in the place where you work
Now face West
Think about the place where you live
Wonder why you haven't before

What exactly does this song mean? Well, it’s philosophical. The song is urging the listener to consider his or her current position in life, to come to a realistic grip with what’s actually going on.

Additional lyrics of this song say:

Your feet are going to be on the ground
Your head is there to move you around

This song is not about movement. It’s about stasis.

What if the lyrics had been:

Stand up in the place where you live
Stand up in the place where you work.

The meaning would be completely different. Then it would be a song about taking dramatic actions, about making serious decisions.

But it’s not. It’s a song about staying in one place, about being aware of where you are and what you’re doing. It’s about being honest with yourself.

Consider another famous song: "Stand By Your Man," by Tammy Wynette, from 1969.

Tammy sings:

Stand by your man,
Give him two arms to cling to,
And something warm to come to
When nights are cold and lonely
Stand by your man,
And show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can
Stand by your man

This, too, is a song about stability, about stasis, about non-movement. To stand by your man is to stay in one place, not moving, being a consistent, reassuring presence.

What if Tammy had sang “stand up by your man”?

That would have meant something completely different. It would have suggested that Tammy and her man were actively doing something together.

Like what? Well, before we go there, let’s talk a little bit more about what “stand” means, just by itself.

Consider the use of “stand” as a noun. A stand is a platform, a place, or a device that supports some other thing. You can have a camera stand, or an ice cream stand, or a banana stand, like in Arrested Development.

A stand doesn’t move. That’s the whole idea. It stays where it is.

Consider the famous Battle of 1876, between the United States military and several native American nations, known as “Custer’s Last Stand,” because General Custer died during that battle.

The battle was his last “stand,” not just because it was the last time he was alive, but because that’s where he took a stand, i.e. that’s where he attempted to impose himself on his surroundings as a stable, persistent force.

What if the battle had been called “Custer’s Last Stand Up”? No. That sounds like an HBO comedy special.

Comedians who perform on stage before audiences are also called stand-up comedians.

Why not simply call them “stand comedians”?

Because the emphasis is not on the fact that they are standing, it is on the fact that they decided to stand. By getting up on the stage and telling jokes, they are putting themselves at great risk of embarrassment and scorn. But they’re doing it anyway… they’re standing up.

Most uses of “stand up” are about pro-actively moving from a position of inaction to a position of action. You can, as Bob Marley urges, “stand up for your rights.”

You can stand up and be counted, meaning that you can make yourself part of a greater cause.

You can stand up for yourself, meaning that you can defend yourself against attack or criticism.

You can stand up TO something or someone: an opponent, a bully, a threat.

You can be a stand-up guy (or gal), meaning that others can rely on you to take action on their behalf.

I hope this article has helped you under-stand.

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