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describing a business (e.g. shop, restaurant) which opens in a temporary location for a short time


noun countable

'Chef and restaurant owner Mitch Tonks has joined forces with First Great Western to launch a pop-up eaterie at Temple Meads station … The pop-up restaurant will be hidden away under the arches …'

Bristol Post 7th May 2014

'There's no cinema in St Albans (yet) but it has a film festival this weekend, with screenings in interesting locations including … the new swimming pool. This swim-along cinema concept … is one of a growing band of watery pop-ups.'

The Guardian 3rd May 2014

Throughout the greater part of the 20th century, the word pop-up would more than likely conjure up images of lavish children's story books, which by the magic of paper engineering presented the reader with three-dimensional illustrations at the turn of every page. And just occasionally, the word also surfaced in the expression pop-up toaster (which I've always considered tautological since, for me, a toaster is an upright kitchen device with the defining characteristic of spitting out bread from the top, so the pop-up bit seems kind of superfluous). However in the 21st century, it seems that pop-up has broadened its horizons and matured into an extremely useful adjective, now used productively in expressions which describe any kind of temporary enterprise.

pop-up has broadened its horizons and matured into an extremely useful adjective, now used productively in expressions which describe any kind of temporary enterprise

Positioned before a noun (i.e. in grammar-speak, used attributively), the adjective pop-up's typical collocates include words like shop, restaurant, cafe or gallery. A pop-up shop (or pop-up store in the US), for example, is a retail enterprise that suddenly appears in a particular venue one day, and then disappears anything from a day to several weeks later. While pop-up shops are usually relatively small, their temporary, 'surprise' nature often makes them really appealing to customers, fostering a sense of engagement with the products on sale. Pop-up shops can be particularly ubiquitous in connection with seasonal goods, such as fireworks or Christmas gifts and decorations.

With low start-up costs and as an effective way to test particular products, markets or locations, pop-up enterprises are springing up in a variety of other domains too. Pop-up galleries can be used to display art cost-effectively in a range of venues. Pop-up cinema can bring the silver screen to the public in outdoor, and often rather unusual, locations, like swimming pools and motorway flyovers. Pop-up restaurants and cafes might respond to temporary demand in connection with an event, or provide new professionals the opportunity to try out their menus. The applications are therefore quite diverse.

Routine access to the Internet and use of social media are undoubtedly one of the main reasons why pop-up enterprises have caught on in such a big way in the early 21st century, meaning that potential users can easily find details of their whereabouts. There are even websites specially dedicated to the pop-up concept, such as www.londonpopups.com.

Background – pop-up

Pop-up as an adjective first appeared in the 1930s, first in relation to children's books, later to toasters, and by the end of the 20th century as a description of menus or other utilities capable of temporarily appearing on a computer screen. The latter sense then also spawned the more regular appearance of pop-up as a countable noun.

The expression pop-up shop first began to appear around the new millennium, the same idea also sometimes described as flash retailing (compare flash mob). Other variations on the pop-up theme then followed, along with corresponding use as a countable noun to refer to such enterprises.

The adjective pop-up is a derivation from the phrasal verb pop up, meaning 'to appear very quickly or suddenly', and which has been a feature of the English lexicon since the mid 15th century.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 1st July 2014.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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