[Note: Sense 1 combines former bow up v phr1 1 and bow up v phr2 1; sense 2 was formerly bow up v phr1 2.]
bow up v phr [In senses 1, 2, and 3 ref is to an animal arching its back as a sign of aggression or stubbornness (cf bow up one’s back v phr). In sense 1 the original image seems to have been of a cat or other carnivore, though for many speakers it now seems to be understood as a description of human body-language; in sense 3, of a mule.] Note: The pronc [baᴜ] given in quot 1951 at sense 1 below appears to be anomalous; though direct evidence is thin, both the etymology and some recent quots point to [ˈbo ʌp] as the normal pronc.
1 To assert oneself, react aggressively to (someone); to draw oneself up into a threatening or defiant posture; hence ppl adj bowed up angry, belligerent. chiefly Sth, SW Cf bow up one’s back v phr 1
1915 Harper’s Weekly 18 Sept 281 SW, Hol on he hollered jumpin up an pullin a six shooter for wich they warnt no manner of reason and I tole him so. He was all bowed up though. Ibid 9 Oct 356 SW, I bowed up right thar now looky here I says . . Im plumb fed up on this mood biznis ef that theres what your a mine to call it. 1927 Daily AZ Silver Belt (Miami) 13 June 3/2, Manager Leathers entered a vigorous protest and told the umpire what he thought of the decision. Van Heron bowed up and ordered Leathers from the game. 1934 Lowell Sun (MA) 11 Aug 13/6, Little Ray Roarke, a hundred pounds of fiery second baseman, bowed right up to the umpires during the recent Springfield-Lowell Legion series when he didn’t concur with them in a decision. It was a comical sight to watch the youngster ball out “Sheriff” Barton, a man of generous physical proportions. 1938 Clovis NM Eve. News–Jrl. 16 Mar 10/3, Our society editor has no objections to the boys shootin’ snooker across the street, but when the boys tried to tear up her car because of a reflection from the sun, she bowed up and drawed the line, pardner. 1941 Stuart Men of Mts. 159 neKY, Though he did bow up to Lead the other day when Lead snapped him through the ear and left a tiny hole. 1951 PADS 15.69 nLA, Bow up to [baᴜ]. . . To assert oneself. “Bow up to him. Don’t let him bluff you.” 1958 McCulloch Woods Words Pacific NW , Bow up—To get mad, turn mean, refuse to do a job. 1966 Ramsey These Are 59 swNM, Johnson finally “bowed up” and told Mr. Lyons he was going to quit trying to run a cow outfit with only half enough horses and dutch ovens, pack saddles and shoeing outfits to go around. 1968 Bowie News (TX) 24 Oct 9/3, Asked if any of her big boys tried to bully her, Mrs. Ware bowed up to all of her 5 foot-2-inch frame. “I’ve never been afraid of any students I’ve ever had,” she declared. 1975 Wichita Falls Times (TX) 26 Oct sec A 16/1, Brown . . bowed up like a sore-tailed cat when we mentioned how he felt about the problems facing the American independent. 1986 Laurel Leader–Call (MS) 16 May 4/6, If there are any speeders reading this, be careful along 29th Street. There’s a crazy man who lives there who is bowed up like a possum. 1995 News Herald (Panama City FL) 9 Nov sec C 2/3, She said she saw her uncle’s hands shaking, though she never saw a gun in them, and then she saw Barnes lean forward and “bow up like a body builder would bow up.” When the shots rang out, she said she had already grabbed her children and turned to run. 2011 in 2016 DARE File—Internet MS, I’m from Mississippi (Delta) and I heard that expression frequently in the context, “Don’t you bow up to me.” Meaning, don’t sass, act disrespectfully, or have a smart mouth. 2012 Ibid cTX, He was trying to get under my skin. “So, what’re you doing at a burger joint? So much for the diet, huh?” I bowed up, and proudly replied: “Nope. I’m having a Turkey Iceburger. Less than 300 calories. Boom!” 2015 Ibid cNC, I’ve heard this [=bow up] since I was a kid (1960’s, central NC) and it was explained to me as how a cat will arch it’s [sic] back like a bow as a warning before hostilities ensue. Mama mostly used it in the negative, as in, “Don’t get all bowed up.” As far as I can recall, the “all” is mandatory.
2 To begin to work in earnest, meet a challenge, “buckle down.” chiefly Sth, W Midl, TX Also called bow up one’s back v phr 2
1939 AmSp 14.89 csTN, Bow up. To improve. ‘Mose will have to bow up if he holds his job.’ 1946 Jefferson Bee (IA) 5 Nov 1/1, Ida pecked away at the Rambler subs and made a first and ten on the Rambler 48. The subs bowed up and cooled the first play for minus 4. 1957 Abilene Reporter–News (TX) 7 Sept sec A 9/5, The Brady line bowed up and turned the Bearcats on all fronts here Friday night. Ballinger’s deepest penetration was to the Brady 36. 2004 WI State Jrl. (Madison) 10 Oct sec F 3/1, “Ohio State players were advertising that this was going to be a smash-mouth football game,” Badgers defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. “Our kids really have bowed up to the challenge week in and week out.” 2011 in 2016 DARE File—Internet, Last week during the football game between LSU and Mississippi State, we kept hearing an ESPN announcer say the team needed to “bow up” (with “bow” pronounced like “beau” or the “bow” in “bow and arrow.”) 2013 Ibid cTX,I had 1/2 of a set of stands, so after looking for some time I bowed up and made the other half last week.
3 To balk, sulk; to stop abruptly. chiefly sAppalachians
2005 Williams Gratitude 481 wNC (as of 1940s), Bow up: (boe up) Just quit and do nuthin’. As: That old mule just bowed up and woutn’t pull that plow another step. 2008 in 2016 DARE File—Internet ceTN, Thought i found him [=a lost dog] last night while driving home! i . . was almost positive it was him till i bowed up in the middle of the road and found out it was a young dog. 2010 Ibid nwSC, I’m with you on the DNR range. [T]hey started the renovations and then just bowed up and stopped all of a sudden. Last time I was there Steve told me he had no idea when they would resume work and/or finish. 2011 Ibid neAL, In NE Alabama it [=bow up] means something like sull up or sulk. “He got mad at me & bowed up”. (Like, he quit talking to me.) Ibid cwIL, It’s common here in Astoria, IL, but we use it differently. . . like, “Don’t tell her to hurry, for pity’s sake! She’ll bow up and stop!” 2012 in 2016 DARE File—Internet wNC, As I looked in my mirror to make sure no one was about to rear end me I said “Good grief you can’t just bow up in the middle of the road!” . . Sometimes I bow up myself—which means I let my stubborn streak show. Ibid wVA, When I was a child, I would get all uppity about something and go pout and my dad would say “Well, ain’t you just sight sitting there all bowed up.” 2015 in 2016 DARE File—Internet cwNC, At the top of the steps leading to the gazebo, I bowed up and stopped. He would not tell me where we were going (and for people that know me, I have to know everything!).
4 Of a person fishing: to make or have one’s rod bend, have a fish hooked; hence ppl adj bowed up having a fish on one’s line. chiefly Gulf States
1990 Laurel Leader–Call (MS) 18 May sec B 1/4, On about the third pass, though, Hillman bowed up on his pole and up popped a good “keeper” crappie of about a pound into the boat. 1997 Orange Leader (TX) 10 Apr sec B 1/1, No less than three people were battling thick-shouldered stripers bowed up in the swift water. 2012 Baytown Sun (TX) 22 Apr sec B 3/1, When it was good, two or three of us would have a fish on at the same time—when it was great a half-dozen would be bowed up simultaneously. 2013 in 2016 DARE File—Internet SC, Nick followed his Dad and bowed up on a nice sheepshead around 4-5 lbs. Ibid LA, Caught a nice redfish. . . Did a little bump and grind along the bottom before I bowed up with this big guy.