Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Got It?

Warning: Heavy educational content in today's entry. While I have copied info from some websites, I'm not in copyright violation because I'm using way less than 10% of the material I referenced, I'm doing it for an educational purpose, I link back to the original source, and I'm making no profit; thus, I should be OK.

I've got a secret.

No, I haven’t—at least not any I’m willing to divulge to the blogosphere. I just wanted to use the word got in a way that will make Dave the Brit happy, although using got in such a way will annoy my writer-buddy Marion, who would insist, “It’s ‘I have a secret!’ doggone it!” and probably sic her accessory dog, Sadie Mae, on me if I persist with the error.

While I was doing lunch and sipping tea with another writer-buddy in Dave the Brit’s fine establishment in downtown Rocky Mount last week, Dave the Brit had a bone to pick with me (figuratively speaking, if I may be permitted the use of an especially overworked cliché) about my use of the word gotten on this humble blog. Miffed that we "colonials" have messed up the mother tongue, he insisted that the correct past participle form is got, not gotten.

Apparently, I am murdering—or at least badly bruising—the king’s English, or perhaps it’s the queen’s. One of those.

He also objected to the American misspellings of labour, colour, and a bunch of other words with excess letters that no one pronounces. My writer-buddy Anita pointed out that the extra letters were ballast discarded during the trip across the pond and that, since Americans had won the war, we were right in our spelling. He would have none of it.

The Brits surrender at Yorktown.

Now, gentle blog readers, you should know that my 11th grade English teacher (Charles Arrington, deceased these many years) at William Fleming High School in Roanoke, insisted that we learn get, got, gotten. To use a helping verb with got was a mortal sin. I saw no reason to disagree, especially since his upper hand held the gradebook. Thus I learned “has/have/had gotten.”

Indeed, even the last text I used when teaching English 101, The Little, Brown Handbook (9th ed.), on page 288 lists both got and gotten as past participle forms for the irregular verb get.

While I didn't have a access to a grammar book during the discussion, I did have my laptop. Firing up my trusty iMac (Dave the Brit’s fine establishment has Wi-Fi), I googled dictionaries and found on the Merriam-Webster site, this:

Main Entry: get
Pronunciation: 'get, ÷'git
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): got /'gät/; got or got·ten /'gä-t&n/; get·ting
Etymology: Middle English, from Old Norse geta to get, beget; akin to Old English bigietan to beget, Latin prehendere to seize, grasp, Greek chandanein to hold, contain
transitive verb
1 a : to gain possession of b : to receive as a return : EARN (got a bad reputation for carelessness)
2 a : to obtain by concession or entreaty b : to become affected by (a disease or bodily condition) : CATCH (got measles from his sister)
3 a : to seek out and obtain (get dinner at the inn) b : to obtain and bring where wanted or needed (get a pencil from the desk)
4 : BEGET
5 a : to cause to come or go (got his luggage through customs) b : to cause to move (get it out of the house) c : to cause to be in a certain position or condition d : to make ready : PREPARE (get breakfast)
6 a : to be subjected to (got a bad fall) b : to receive by way of punishment c : to suffer a specified injury to (got my nose broken)
7 a : to achieve as a result of military activity b : to obtain or receive by way of benefit or advantage got little for his trouble] (get the better of an enemy)
8 a : SEIZE b : OVERCOME c : to have an emotional effect on (gets me) d : IRRITATE (get her) e : PUZZLE f : to take vengeance on; specifically : KILL g : HIT
9 : to prevail on : CAUSE (got them to tidy up their room)
10 a : HAVE —used in the present perfect tense form with present meaning (I've got no money) b : to have as an obligation or necessity — used in the present perfect tense form with present meaning (got to come)
11 a : to find out by calculation (get the answer to a problem) b : MEMORIZE (got the verse by heart) c : HEAR d : UNDERSTAND (got the joke)
12 : to establish communication with
13 : to put out in baseball
14 : DELIVER (gets 20 miles to the gallon)

intransitive verb
1 a : to succeed in coming or going : to bring or move oneself (get away to the country) (get into the car) b : to reach or enter into a certain condition (got to sleep after midnight) c : to make progress (gotten far with the essay)
2 : to acquire wealth
3 a : to be able (got to go to college) b : to come to be —often used with following present participle (got talking about old times)
4 a : to succeed in becoming : BECOME (get clear of all the debts I owe -- Shakespeare) b : to become involved (get into trouble with the law)
5 : to leave immediately (told them to get)

verbal auxiliary -- used with the past participle of transitive verbs as a passive voice auxiliary (got caught in the act)


- get after : to pursue with exhortation, reprimand, or attack
- get ahead : to achieve success [determined to get ahead in life]
- get a life : to stop wasting time on trivial or hopeless matters
- get a move on : HURRY
- get at
1 : to reach effectively
2 : to influence corruptly : BRIBE
3 : to turn one's attention to
4 : to try to prove or make clear [what is he getting at]
- get away with : to avoid criticism or punishment for or the consequences of (as a reprehensible act)
- get cracking : to make a start : get going [ought to get cracking on that assignment]
- get even : to get revenge
- get even with : to repay in kind
- get going : to make a start
- get into : to become strongly involved with or deeply interested in
- get it : to receive a scolding or punishment
- get it on
1 : to become enthusiastic, energetic, or excited
2 : to engage in sexual intercourse
- get on
1 : to produce an unfortunate effect on : UPSET [the noise got on my nerves]
2 : to criticize insistently [the fans got on him for losing the game]
- get one's act together
1 : to put one's life, thoughts, or emotions in order : cease to be confused or misdirected
2 : to begin to function in a skillful or efficient manner [the company finally got its act together]
- get one's goat : to make one angry or annoyed
- get over
1 a : OVERCOME, SURMOUNT b : to recover from c : to reconcile oneself to : become accustomed to
2 : to move or travel across
- get real : to stop deceiving oneself or fooling around : face reality
- get religion
1 : to undergo religious conversion
2 : to turn to or adopt an enlightened course of action or point of view
- get somewhere : to be successful
- get there : to be successful
- get through : to reach the end of : COMPLETE
- get to
1 a : BEGIN [gets to worrying over nothing at all] b : to be ready to begin or deal with [I'll get to the accounts as soon as I can]
2 : to have an effect on: as a : INFLUENCE b : BOTHER
- get together
1 : to bring together : ACCUMULATE
2 : to come together : ASSEMBLE, MEET
3 : to reach agreement
- get wind of : to become aware of
- get with it : to become alert or aware : show sophisticated consciousness


The pronunciation \'git\ has been noted as a feature of some British and American dialects since the 16th century. In the phonetic spelling of his own speech Benjamin Franklin records git. However, since at least 1687 some grammarians and teachers have disapproved this pronunciation. It nonetheless remains in widespread and unpredictable use in many dialects, often, but not exclusively, when get is a passive auxiliary (as in get married) or an imperative (as in get up!).

Dave the Brit, however, thinks American dictionaries don’t count.

Well, another try: Dictionary.net (OK, not the best source on the web, but it beats Wikipedia) says gotten is “obsolescent.” So, it’s going out of date, but isn’t officially out-dated yet. Plus it’s another American dictionary. . . .

Encarta (yet another American dictionary) lists gotten as the past participle of get. Score another point for the colonials. Plus, it adds this:

Get is an overworked verb. It is better to use a more specific term in formal writing whenever you can.

Hmmm. This is what Marion has been getting at—er, saying. But this is interesting:

The past participles got and gotten convey slightly different ideas. They have gotten an apartment in Boston means they have recently taken the apartment, whereas They have got an apartment in Boston simply indicates that they have it. (There are those who would argue, with reason, that in a sentence like this one got is redundant, and that have alone would do the job.) In informal usage, have got can also be followed by an infinitive to denote obligation (I've got to go to the party means "I must"), whereas have gotten with an infinitive denotes opportunity (I've gotten to go to the party means "I've been given the chance to attend").

Aha! Score another point (Sorry, Marion)! Using gotten, one (ooh, sorry about that POV shift) can color (not colour) one’s utterance with subtle shades of meaning. Gotten is indeed a most useful form.

Dave the Brit will only accept the Oxford English Dictionary as the proper authority. However, online use requires a payment of a fee. However, the OED does offer a free version, sort of an OED lite. Here’s what the Compact Oxford English Dictionary says about get:

• verb (getting; past got; past part. got, N. Amer. or archaic gotten) 1 come to have or hold; receive. 2 succeed in attaining, achieving, or experiencing; obtain. 3 experience, suffer, or be afflicted with. 4 move in order to pick up, deal with, or bring. 5 bring or come into a specified state or condition. 6 catch, apprehend, or thwart. 7 come or go eventually or with some difficulty. 8 move or come into a specified position or state. 9 tend to meet with or find. travel by or catch (a form of transport). begin to be or do something, especially gradually or by chance. strike or wound. informal punish, injure, or kill. used with past participle to form the passive mood.

Aha! The OED does recognize gotten, archaic or North American that its usage might be. Why do the Brits consider gotten archaic? Have they become too lazy to pronounce that extra syllable? Well, we colonials shall rise to the challenge! Some of us, anyway.

I will concede that there are times when got with a helping verb does make sense: The phone rings. Someone yells, “I’ve got it!” Another says, “I’ve gotten it the last ten times. About time you answered it.” See? Both forms make sense. It’s a matter of context.

By Jove, I think I’ve got it! Now I better be gittin' on down the road.

Final note: If you’re having trouble understanding folks of the British persuasion, you might try this site for help.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Marion said...

The dictionary actually uses this as an example? "I've got no money"?

That translates out as: I have got no money.

To quote Charles Shultz as Charlie Brown...ARGHHHHH!

4:42 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

So the OED states that gotten is "N.Amer" and there we have it. If you rebelious colonials stopped pretending that you spoke English and fessed-up (N.Amer)to speaking another language we could all move on. Now repeat after me al-you-min-ee-um

8:15 AM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

Got is a word better left unused!

But I gotta go now - things to do. ;-)

1:25 PM  
Blogger Amy Hanek said...

"You've got mail" - I still remember Marion and her outrage in using this popular phrase.

Thank you for the N. American English Lesson. I feel I should receive an honorary degree at this point! (LOL)

11:12 AM  

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