Everyone knows the ‘F’ word. It is, like salt, usable on any occasion, in any way; as a noun, a verb, an adjective, and adverb, as punctuation, for emphasis, between words, even in the middle of words.
The ‘G’ word, however, is far more universally used than the F word, used more often, by more people, on more occasions, in polite or impolite company. And yet, it is neglected and ignored, unsung, unrecognized, never written about, never banned, abjured, washed out with soap. In short, it has – until now – languished in obscurity, unrecognized for its linguistic versatility and significance.
What is this G word, you ask. Why, the word Get, of course. We use the G word so often, in so many ways that it’s hard to understand exactly what the words Get, Got, Gotten mean. It is even harder to understand – except for an unconscious addiction to its crutch like assistance – why we use the G word in instances where its use is far more complex than use of a more apt, correct word.
Actual published examples of the G word being mis-used or over-used are abundant:
“But if they had gotten (received) a good education to begin with, things might not have gotten (deteriorated) to that point.” U.S. News & World Report, 5/29/00;
“You keep reading (Shakespeare) and reading it. Slowly it starts to come. When I get (understand) it, I’m so exited…,” quoting Kenneth Branagh, People, 6/19/00;
“We’ve gotten (become) so numb on Iraq that when eight American soldiers and over 80 Iraqi police officers get (are) killed, when the governor of Baghdad gets (is) assassinated….it’s all just another week of pre-election maneuvering.” Maureen Dowd, N.Y. Times, Oct. 2004;
“…caused by anything from a terror attack to signs that a big country has gotten (become) queasy about buying dollars”, Thomas L. Friedman, N.Y. Times, 2/24/05;
“When word of the kidnapping (sic) got out (was detected, broadcast?)…”, N.Y. Times, 6/10/04;
“Yet most poor countries do not get (give, transport, provide?) the drugs to the women”, N.Y. Times, 6/21/02;
“The sale got off to (began with) a brisk start”, N.Y. Times, 11/9/99;
“Maybe, thankfully, I never got (had the opportunity) to make that film”, quoting Francis Ford Coppola, N.Y. Times, 1/11/05;
“Many times legislation does not get done (is not enacted) the first time.” N.Y. Times, 10/14/04
“Let’s get this done before G.M. meetings, because once we get (arrive) there…” Sports Illus., 11/99;
“Jerry Colangelo wanted two games in prime time, and Jerry Colangelo got (obtained, received?) them. Nice to know who’s got (has) clout in baseball:, N.Y. Times, 10/8/99;
“Come this year, I got to (must) find ways not to get (become) nervous…” quoting Derek Jeter, N.Y. Times, 10/8/99;
The G word is an enabler, its near universal meaning permits its user to get (see, now I did it) his/her meaning understood without the necessity of choosing the precise or correct word. Sometimes, the G word doesn’t even have a translatable equivalent, for example, a phrase that I am sure we have all used at one time or another: “I’ve got to get ahead.” What does ‘get ahead’ mean?; to ‘obtain’ ahead (no sense)?; to make progress ( it doesn’t mean that); to achieve, accomplish, win, conquer? Wouldn’t it be just as easy – and clearer – to say “I have to achieve, I have to accomplish? I have to win; I have to conquer?
Just to show you that the got proliferation is showing no signs of abating, the N.Y. Times, Friday 2/25/05 reported someone who “…got cold chills up and down my spine.” Did that mean the person received, had, obtained, felt, experienced, cold chills? Who knows? And, what’s more, who cares? It got the message over, right? Sacre blu, another meaning – to communicate, relay, transmit.
The next time you hear someone say, ‘I’ve got it’, you’ll know something occurred, but did they understand, become, receive, obtain, have, relay, communicate the opportunity to do something, or were they nervous, with cold chills? You won’t be able to get a handle on that, in other words, get ahead, unless you get to getting. Got it? Okay, now I gotta get going. Hunh?