on one's uppers, Informal. reduced to poverty; without sufficient means: They are on their uppers but manage to hide the fact from their friends.

Origin of upper

1300–50; Middle English; see up (adj.), -er4
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for on one's uppers



higher or highest in relation to physical position, wealth, rank, status, etc
(capital when part of a name) lying farther upstream, inland, or farther norththe upper valley of the Loire
(capital when part of a name) geology archaeol denoting the late part or division of a period, system, formation, etcUpper Palaeolithic
maths (of a limit or bound) greater than or equal to one or more numbers or variables


the higher of two objects, people, etc
the part of a shoe above the sole, covering the upper surface of the foot
on one's uppers extremely poor; destitute
informal any tooth of the upper jaw
Also called (esp US): up slang any of various drugs having a stimulant or euphoric effectCompare downer
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for on one's uppers



c.1300, originally comparative of up. Cf. Middle Dutch upper, Dutch opper, Low German upper, Norwegian yppare. Noun meaning "part of a shoe above the sole" is recorded from 1789; sense of "stimulant drug" is from 1968. Upper crust is attested from mid-15c. in reference to the top crust of a loaf of bread, 1836 in reference to society. The pugilistic uppercut is first recorded 1842. Upper hand "advantage" is late 15c., probably from wrestling. Upperclassman is recorded from 1871. Upper middle class (adj.) is first recorded 1872.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Science definitions for on one's uppers



Being a later or more recent division of the geological or archaeological period named. Compare lower.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with on one's uppers

on one's uppers

Poor, in reduced circumstances, as in as in The Smiths try to hide the fact that they're on their uppers. First recorded in 1886, this metaphoric term alludes to having worn out the soles of one's shoes so badly that only the top portions remain.


In addition to the idioms beginning with upper

  • upper crust
  • upper hand
  • upper story

also see:

  • keep a stiff upper lip
  • on one's uppers
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.