Friday, July 19, 2013
The GOT Virus
American speech is lively, but it tends towards fewer words, and slangy abbreviation.
We should celebrate our language, and indulge it. We don't know how lucky we are to have inherited it from our European ancestors.
There are many who now believe that we may be in the earliest stages of the decline of English as the lingua franca of the world. Some believe that Spanish, or Chinese, may one day become our national language.
What a pity that would be. I don't have a dog in the fight, as they say, since I don't have any descendants, though I still may enjoy my "native language" for the few remaining years of my existence.
In the meantime, there are the sins of the fathers, and the general distress of our vulgar tongue, ubiquitous throughout the culture.
I was not surprised to learn that I'm not the only one fed up with over-use of the verb to get. Someone named Stephen Wilbers has a page devoted to this problem here. As Mr. Wilbers notes, get (and got) are honorable trusty Anglo-Saxon words (from the old Norse), which we would not wish to see banished to the obscurity of un-use.
There are variant related forms from other Indo-European languages, but geta (to obtain, reach) from the Germanic old Swedish getan (to guess or to try to get) seems the clearest root. Old English only had get in compound form, i.e., begietan (to beget) and forgietan (to forget). The proliferation of applications fills up 29 columns in the OED 2nd edition.
Get and got have become so widespread in our speech that they threaten to become almost as common as articles and conjunctions.
Among the several uses of to get are
--to go after
--to arrive at
--to be subjected to
--to cause to occur
--to take revenge
--to become or grow
--to conceive or bear (children)
--but of course this barely scratches the surface, since the compound forms are at least as common today, and show little sign of decrease, i.e., to get down (to lose one's inhibition or enjoy oneself wholeheartedly), or get by, or get off, or get to cracking, or get even, or get away (with), or get it on, or gotcha, etc.
As powerful as the word get has become, there is a danger that too many applications may supplant more efficient and accurate words. Its overuse may facilitate the winnowing down of vocabulary--never a good thing in my view.
I've got to get going; if I don't get with it I'm going to get behind. You get me? You got me there.
Just for the sake of variety, I wish people would simply say I have (instead of I've got), or I've become (instead of I'm getting or I've gotten). The tendency towards slang is a generative function in the language. The cutting edge of the genius of a people often occurs through the use of short-cuts and novel inventions. But in our relentless consumer culture, people may become so lazy that they simply abandon many useful and accurate descriptives and verbs. The less often people use words, the more obscure they become. Words may sicken and even die from neglect.
Ever since junior high school, I've kept a copy of Roget's Thesaurus at my side. Since the advent of the computer revolution, I've tended to use online versions in place of the material text--and of dictionaries too--but the principle of use is the same. If you want to improve your speaking or writing skills, it helps to elaborate your speech or writings with different words, to put a little different spin on things, or to employ more accurate words.
When I was in public school, speaking well was regarded as the province of eggheads. Talk filled with slang and neologisms was thought to be cool and neat. I can recall the first time I heard my son say "awesome" and "tubular" and "Hell-of-live." Cute or ingenious new words and usages may make you feel out of date, or just irritable. Or you may see them as interesting new mintings, bright new pennies that shine with optimistic utility. Or they may seem like fool's gold.
This evening the Giants begin the second half of the new season against the Diamonbacks. Here's hoping that Buster or Hunter goes yard, and that Chad Gaudin shuts'em down.
Gotta get to work now. See ya'.