“Had got”

This is a one-off post, if you will pardon the expression, because as far as I know, this usage appears in only one American publication. Backing up a bit, I am referring the the past participle form of the verb to get, which in British English is got and in American English is gotten. So, for example, we would say, “By that time I had gotten angry”; they, “got angry.” (This shouldn’t be confused with the very American “got” used to mean “have,” e.g.,”I got plenty of nuthin’.”) The distinction had appeared as early as 1908, when (as quoted in Garner’s Modern American English), a writer in Blackwood’s Magazine observed:

“America need not boast the use of ‘gotten.’ The termination, which suggests either wilful archaism or useless slang, adds nothing of sense or sound to the word. It is like a piece of dead wood in a tree, and is better lopped off.”

The American magazine I referred to earlier is The New Yorker. Among its several stylistic peculiarities (spelling the word “marvellous,” putting an umlaut over the second o in “cooperate”) is an insistence on this “got.” The normally very sharp Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage claims that “English speakers in North America seem to use both got and gotten in a way that is almost freely variable.” However, of the four sources the book cites for got, four (Calvin Trillin, Alexander Woollcott, Peter Taylor, and John Cheever) are New Yorker writers, with Russell Lynes the only outlier.

The New Yorker seems to have developed its affection for got early. Its online archives gives examples from the early 1930s, including a James Thurber Talk of the Town piece from 1931:

“An African novelist was supposed to speak at the Women’s Club of Maplewood, New Jersey, and the girls were all excited. He didn’t show up, and two days later they discovered he had got into a fist fight with a plasterer in a speakeasy and had landed in jail instead.”

That was one thing in the speakeasy era, but the usage seems seriously weird today. However, one comes upon it nearly every week in the magazine, including, very recently, a Lawrence Wright article from February 14, 2011: “When she was a young child, her stepfather had got the family involved with Scientology.”

This affectation bugs me so much that I started a Facebook group called “Get the New Yorker to Use ‘Gotten’ Instead of ‘Got.’” Call me crazy, but 135 people have joined, including some actual New Yorker writers, one being none other than Lawrence Wright. I guess he is trying to effect change from within. Good luck, Lawrence!

About these ads

10 responses to ““Had got”

  1. Other New Yorker usage oddities include “vender” and “focusses”: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-382229.html

  2. That’s interesting, Fritinancy. Thanks. “Focusses” (as present tense third person verb) makes sense to me, because normal pronunciation rules would lead you to incorrectly say “focuses” to rhyme with “abuses.”

    “Vender” (instead of “vendor”) would seem to have a parallel case in “adviser”/”advisor.” In both instances the “-er” spelling was the earlier one, with “-or” following in hot pursuit. Google Ngram shows “vendor” taking over from “vender” in about 1780. “Adviser” still is used more in the printed sources that Ngram tracks than “advisor,” but the lead is narrowing–and “advisor” wins by far in a Google search, which is, of course, not limited to books and magazines. About 100% of my advisees at the U. of Delaware refer to me as their “advisor.”

    One interesting thing to me about the ascent of both “advisor” and “vendor” is that they sound like Britishisms, but are not.

  3. It’s not an umlaut, which indicates that the vowel makes a different sound than you’d otherwise expect. It’s a diaresis, indicating that you say the vowel separately, rather than as a single digraph.

  4. “Diaresis” is such an unfortunate word for a perfectly good diacritic.

    I had seen the term before, but a little research explains the trouble:
    “[I]n well-designed typographical fonts umlaut dots will be very close to the letter’s body, while diaresis dots will be a bit farther up with a bit more of white space between the letter and the dots. In computer screen fonts the difference is usually not noticeable.” (http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Diaeresis#Umlaut)

  5. I’ve got nothing against “got.” Been using it for years, but I’ve gotten used to variation depending on nuance.

  6. Hmmm, “By that time I had got angry” isn’t very good English anyway. I’d rephrase it into “By then, I was angry”, or “by that time I had become angry”. I think the translation between got and gotten isn’t quite right in that particular case.

  7. As I said elsewhere, dictionary.net lists gotten as obsolescent. To me, it sounds old-fashioned, rural, Farrrmerrrrr Goiles-ish and it grates on me. We’ve got at least three perfectly acceptable alternatives if “got” won’t do: “obtained”, “acquired”, “received” etc.

  8. This is interesting to me, a Brit. No Brit would ever say gotten unless they were consciously mimicking a stereotypical American. So, gotten seems wrong to me, although I accept that it is perfectly valid for Americans to have this usage.

    What I found interesting is that I had always assumed it was an old-fashioned usage, even in America, harking back to Wild West days. But Ben’s article implies that, the New Yorker aside, gotten is the standard, even for the most literate, educated Americans.

    Also interesting on vender/adviser. Vender would always be vendor in the UK. I’m not sure vender would be understood. Advisor is common, but is widely seen as an Americanism, to be resisted!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s