Pick Them Up: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
September 29, 2023

The idiom "pick them up" has several meanings depending on the context and the object of the phrase. It can mean lifting something with your hands, collecting something or someone, learning, detecting, resuming, or giving someone a ride.

In short:

  • It is an idiom that can have different meanings depending on the situation.
  • It can refer to lifting, collecting, learning, detecting, resuming, or driving.

What Does "Pick Them Up" Mean?

The meaning of "pick them up" depends on what or who is being picked up and for what purpose.

Here are some common meanings and related expressions of this idiom:

  • To lift something or someone with your hands. For example, "She picked up the baby and hugged him." This meaning is literal and does not have any figurative sense.
  • To collect or retrieve something. For example, "He picked up his mail from the post office." This meaning implies that the thing being picked up was left somewhere else.
  • To learn something. For example, "He picked up some Spanish during his trip to Mexico." This meaning implies that the thing picked up was acquired by practice or exposure rather than formal instruction.
  • To detect something. For example, "The radar picked up a signal from the enemy plane." This meaning implies that the thing picked up was not visible or audible before and became noticeable or clear afterward.
  • To resume something. For example, "Let's pick up where we left off yesterday." This meaning implies that the thing picked up was interrupted or stopped before and continued or started again afterward.
  • To give someone a ride in one's vehicle. For example, "I'll pick you up at eight o'clock." This meaning implies that the person being picked up was waiting or expecting to be transported by someone else.

Where Does "Pick Them Up" Come From?

The origin of the idiom "pick them up" is not very clear, but it seems to be derived from the literal sense of lifting something or someone with one's hands. Over time, this phrase acquired other meanings related to collecting, learning, detecting, resuming, and driving, as explained above.

Historical Example

The earliest recorded use of this phrase dates back to the 14th century, in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (c. 1390), one of the characters says:

And when I had done all this / I rose / And thought I would / do as he told me / And picked him in his bed / and he was glad / And thanked God / and took his book at once / And finished all that he began.

10 Examples of "Pick Them Up" in Sentences

Here are some examples of how to use this idiom in different sentences:

  • Oh, snap! I need to pick them up from school at 3 pm.
  • No worries. She always picks them up when they are on sale.
  • She was so happy when she picked them up at the bus station.
  • Can you pick them up on your way home? Those pots are heavy.
  • Holy cow! The radio picked up some strange noises on the frequency.
  • Yaas! They are going to pick them up from the airport tomorrow morning.
  • He had to pick them up after they fell on the ice. He's such a stand-up guy.
  • About last night, he was so tired that he couldn't pick himself up from the couch.
  • About the orders, fret not. He promised to pick them up after he finished his work.
  • Those poor dogs. Glad to hear that they decided to pick them up and take them to the shelter.

Examples of "Pick Them Up" in Pop Culture

Here are some examples of how this idiom has been used in various forms of popular culture:

  • In the song "Pick Up the Pieces" by Average White Band (1974), the band sings about recovering from a broken relationship.
  • In the movie Back to the Future (1985), Marty McFly travels back to 1955 and meets his parents as teenagers. He tries to help his father, George McFly, win the heart of his mother, Lorraine Baines, by telling him to "pick her up" for the school dance.
  • In the TV show Friends (1994-2004), Joey Tribbiani is a struggling actor who often tries to flirt with women using his catchphrase: "How you doin'?" In one episode, he meets Rachel Green's sister, Jill, who is interested in him. He tries to impress her by taking her to a fancy restaurant, but she orders everything on the menu and expects him to pay for it. He says, "I just thought we'd get out of here before they try to pick us up for dessert."

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say "Pick Them Up"

Here are some synonyms for every variation of this idiom:

  • Get
  • Lift
  • Fetch
  • Bring
  • Grasp
  • Acquire
  • Discover
  • Continue
  • Transport
  • Chauffeur

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Pick Them Up"

Here are some common questions and answers about this idiom:

  • What does "pick them up" mean?

The idiom "pick them up" has several meanings depending on the context and the object of the phrase. It can mean lifting something with your hands, collecting something or someone, learning, detecting, resuming, or giving someone a ride.

  • What is the origin of the phrase "pick them up"?

The origin of the idiom "pick them up" is not very clear, but it seems to be derived from the literal sense of lifting something or someone with one's hands. Over time, this phrase acquired other meanings related to collecting, learning, detecting, resuming, and driving.

  • What is the difference between "pick up" and "pick out"?

"Pick up" means to lift, collect, buy, learn, improve, detect, resume, or drive something or someone. "Pick out" means to choose, select, identify, or distinguish something or someone from a group or a set.

  • What is the difference between "pick up" and "pick on"?

"Pick up" means to lift, collect, buy, learn, improve, detect, resume, or drive something or someone. "Pick on" means to bully, tease, harass, or criticize someone unfairly or repeatedly.

  • What is the difference between "pick up" and "pick at"?

"Pick up" means to lift, collect, buy, learn, improve, detect, resume, or drive something or someone. "Pick at" means to eat or touch something in small amounts or without enthusiasm.

  • Can you use "pick them up" in a question?

Yes, you can use "pick them up" in a question by changing the word order or adding an auxiliary verb.

Example: Can you pick them up from the airport?

  • Can you use "pick them up" in a negative sentence?

Yes, you can use "pick them up" in a negative sentence by adding the word “not” before or after the verb.

Example: He did not pick them up from school.

  • Can you use "pick them up" in a passive sentence?

Yes, you can use "pick them up" in a passive sentence by changing the word order and adding the verb "be" and the past participle of the verb.

Example: They were picked up by their grandparents.

  • Can you use "pick them up" with other prepositions?

Yes, you can use "pick them up" with other prepositions to modify or specify the meaning of the phrase.

Example: She picked them up at the station.

  • Can you use "pick them up" with other pronouns?

Yes, you can use "pick them up" with other pronouns to change the number or person of the subject or object of the phrase.

Example: They want to pick it up tomorrow.

Final Thoughts About "Pick Them Up"

The idiom "pick them up" is a versatile and common expression that can have different meanings depending on the context and the object of the phrase.

In summary:

  • It can mean to lift, collect, learn, detect, resume, or drive something or someone.
  • It has some synonyms and related expressions that can be used interchangeably.
  • It can be used with different prepositions, pronouns, tenses, and moods to modify or specify its meaning.
  • It can be used in questions, negative, and passive sentences by changing the word order or adding auxiliary verbs.
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