The Ill-gotten Gotten

There can be quite a lot of snobbery around the English language, especially when it comes to words that are considered ‘incorrect usage’. I must admit that I can be one of those snobs myself, although I tend towards the moderate end of the scale.

The main culprit behind such snobbery is Henry Watson Fowler and his book of Modern English Usage. It might be useful in many respects, but it also entrenched the replacement of perfectly good English words with others that sound much more formal.

A good example is the reader’s question in the paper today asking whether ‘gotten’ is correct English usage or an Americanism. The answer, of course, is it’s both.

Ordinary English people had been happily using the word for years as the past tense of got and even in the King James Bible in phrases like ill-gotten and only begotten.

Colonists took it across the Atlantic to America and Canada and carried on using it because they weren’t afflicted with clever people who decided that it was common and uncouth. (Note that ‘uncouth’ was okay, but ‘couth’ wasn’t.)

Fowler described ‘gotten’ as archaic and affected and we were taught to replace it with more acceptable alternatives, such as arrived or reached.

But ‘gotten’ is making a comeback, mainly through American films and tv, and that’s fine in my book because it means the language is returning to its roots. And also that I’m probably a bigger language snob than I thought I was.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

5 comments… Add yours
  • Professor Pudding 3rd April 2012

    Our wonderful language is forever changing. We add new words each year and we are open to additions from other parts of the world – hence “bungalow” (Hindi), “anorak” (Inuit) and “taboo” (Polynesia) for example. However, in spite of my appreciation of this flexibility, there are some lazy media-led developments that get my back up e.g. “gifted”, “wicked”, “whatever” . I like to see accuracy and thoughtfulness from writers and though I have been accused by a couple of bloggers of being pedantic, I openly admit that I am as liable to making mistakes as anyone. I find it interesting that when errors are pointed out, some of their makers can be aggressively defensive. You on the other hand Mr Parrots have accepted any helpful remarks I have made about small matters of grammar and spelling in a courteous manner. I think you appreciate that if I point a typo or other mistake out there isn’t a subtext – it’s not as if I’m saying “Hey, you’ve made a mistake therefore I am superior to you” or “Hey, you’ve made a mistake therefore your content is hardly worth reading.” Thanks for that.

  • Mr Parrot 3rd April 2012

    I’m grateful to you for pointing out any typos or errors. Like you, I don’t claim to be perfect, but I do try to get as close as I’m able. Part of the problem is the speed of things today, what with texts, Twitter and Facebook. I try to rattle off a post and get it posted when normally I would re-read and hone it. The great thing about blogging is that no mistake is indeliable!

  • Elizabeth 3rd April 2012

    I feel I need to reply to your comments.

    I, too, am tremendously grateful when typos and grammar are pointed out to me, and in normal circumstances I am not aggressive or defensive. Please don’t think that of me. When I come across as abrasive it is only my own frustration and desire to get it right and ‘fit’ into the world of blogging. But, I started blogging at a very different place from both of you. I had to re-learn all the rudiments of writing and grammar from scratch five years ago and I still do not find it easy. My brain sometimes does not work at the same speed as my marshmallow hands and sometimes I press the wrong keys. I revise my posts many times as I spot mistakes and I genuinely do try to get it right.

    Professor Pudding and yourself have both been a huge encouragement to me in many ways, but what I can’t cope with is a sentence like, ‘You’ll find a couple of mistakes in the middle of all that’. It raises insecurities, I lose confidence and if I can’t spot the mistake then I will rubbish the page. Specific errors pointed out are helpful and very, very much valued, though some flummox me completely, simply because I’m not at that level of understanding yet! It is all so difficult for others to understand and, please believe me, I DO know that. If I pursue the matter, I come across as far more intense and laboured than I really am, but what other way do I have of finding out the knowledge? The really stupid thing is that when I trust someone enough to push the understanding of something with them, it has the opposite effect of appearing too ‘heavy’ and tuning them out. And when that happens, they don’t want to know me anymore. I wish I could explain all the processes to you, but I can’t because I don’t understand them myself.

    I find comment boxes particularly difficult to deal with; sometimes my thick fingers manage to press the submit button before I have finished or had time to totally re-read and process what I have written and sadly, in that scenario, mistakes are not always easy to change. I do panic when I realise that I’ve made a mistake, realise that some bloggers despise me for deleting, and it makes me cautious of trying again.

    If you saw my remarks on the ‘Magic Moments’ post, Ian, you will have seen me speak of other difficulties. I find it so hard, get discouraged easily and know that I will never be writing at the standard of either of you, but please try to understand that that isn’t because of a desire to be innacurate and unthoughtful, but just that I don’t have that facility yet. Please try to understand and see beyond the mistakes to what I’m trying, albeit inadequately, to say.

    All I do know, is that whether I spell it right or spell it wrong, whether I use punctuation incorrectly or not, it makes no difference to who I am, my respect and admiration of you both and my desire to have continued in friendship with you both. Please remember that I’m still very much a work in progress. I truly do not mean to be discourteous, rude or to make a mess of anybody’s blog pages; how I so wish that I could convey that to you. I’m just trying to express myself in the only way that this inadequate medium and my even more inadequate brain cells will allow.

    I wish with all my heart and being that I could put things right, but once confidence in me is gone, it is gone forever and, through one stupid, stupid fall, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that I can do to repair the damage.

  • Shooting Parrots 3rd April 2012

    I think you do yourself a disservice Elizabeth. I’ve always found your posts both well-written and thoughtful. And if there have been typos, I must have missed them.

    I tend to make more mistakes when I’m leaving comments on other blogs, usually because I’m in a hurry and I certainly deleted more than my fair share for that reason – that’s a useful facility on Blogger sites!

    I honestly don’t get too hung up on spelling or grammar on other people’s blogs. I hope this is a pretty informal network we have and I’m more interested in what people have to say to worry about how they say it. When I do post my rantlets about words and grammar, it’s almost always in the context of the media rather than what I read on blogs.

    The best advice I can give regarding those who leave comments is to accept the ones that are helpful and ignore the ones that aren’t.

    I will look into installing a comment preview plugin that will then give you the option to review what you’ve said, because I do appreciate hearing what people think.

  • Elizabeth 3rd April 2012

    Ian, you are incredibly kind. x


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