Writing for Business and Pleasure
Copyright by Stephen Wilbers
Misuse and overuse of "got"
First published January 23, 2006
We’ve got to get control of all these
"getting" and "gotting" of American English threatens our ability to
express ourselves with precision, if you get my meaning. I hope my
declaration got your attention
If you’re unconcerned about how common get and got are getting to be, you need to get with it because, believe me, we’ve got problems. Forgive me if I get on my soapbox, but I don’t want you to get complacent. We gotta get started on a solution.
It’s not just that get and got get used in place of more precise and interesting words; their predominating use also represents a general trend toward less elegant and artful speech. As you can tell, that trend is starting to get to me, though I’m aware I may get nothing but trouble for raising the issue.
I’m not advocating a stodgy, artificially formal style of English, but I am defending (or getting behind) a style of writing and speaking that retains some of the natural beauty of our language, as in "I have two dollars" rather than "I got two dollars."
The other day I heard a radio commentator refer to a marketing approach designed "to get interest" in a song so that the recording company could "get someone to pay for it." How does speech like that get on the air?
My concern is that, if we stop using more interesting and colorful words such as arouse and induce, those words may get dropped (or vanish) from our vocabulary, a lamentable development given the rich and varied choices we English speakers have got (or have available to us).
Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that get is so deeply ingrained in our everyday idioms that we could never expunge it (or get rid of it), nor would I recommend that we try (or get on the stick and get cracking with it). Such an effort would get nowhere.
Besides, there is something deeply satisfying about the guttural sound of get and got, a sound that seems linked to the Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Germanic roots of our language. It is perhaps no accident that English lends itself so naturally to the heavily accentuated rhythms of rock and roll. One feels some sympathy for our French counterparts who must work so hard to achieve the same effect with the syllables of their unstressed language. English is definitely the get-down language.
But to get back to (or return to) the point I’m trying to get across (or convey), how about some degree of balance between the guttural and the graceful?
My modest proposal: At least on occasion, in place of got, use have, as in "I have two dollars," or use achieve, as in "Houston has achieved control of the spacecraft," or simply use a more precise verb, as in "Houston has stabilized the spacecraft." How about "I finished" rather than "I got done"?
Still, I think Curtis Mayfield got it right when he wrote the lyrics to his famous song. Just for the record, he did not write, "People, prepare yourselves."