Is “get” ugly?

I often I find the word ‘get’ or ‘got’ needlessly overused on the internet and in papers and magazines, but is it really ugly? When I was about twelve our teacher told us that ‘get’ and ‘got’ should be reserved for when you mean ‘obtain’ or ‘obtained’ (as in ‘Get your bag’, or ‘I got my wages’) and that used elsewhere they were ugly, and that we could usually either leave them out or find better words. ‘I’ve got a cold’ is a contraction of ‘I have got a cold’, and the phrase ‘I have a cold’ means the same, so in this case the word ‘got’ is superfluous. When you think about it, maybe he was right, though I’m not sure that ‘ugly’ is the right word.

There’s the case of a writer (I forget which writer) who thought that the word “swallow” was the most beautiful word in English: “The swallow, bonny birdie, comes sharp twittering o’er the sea, / And gladly is her carol heard for the sunny days to be…” Until a friend asked “You like the word ‘swallow’? Do you mean what you do when you have a lump of phlegm in your throat?” Suddenly the word was not beautiful any more.

Among the shower of drivel the contemporary world drenches us with, needless Gets and Gots are everywhere. But maybe we should all get used to it, get over it, get with it and get cool.

2 Replies to “Is “get” ugly?”

  1. “Get” and “got” (past and past participle of get) are very common words in (informal) American English, and A.E. is probably the most common idiom on the Internet. From the point of view of British English, they are overused.

    The American English Dictionary and Thesaurus app. for Mac OS X incidentally argues quite well for the usage, however:

    “Get is a very broad term meaning to come into possession of. You can get something by fetching it (: get some groceries), by receiving it ( | get a birthday gift), by earning it ( | get interest on a bank loan), or by any of a dozen other familiar means. It is such a common, over-used word that many writers try to substitute obtain for it whenever possible, perhaps because it sounds less colloquial. But it can also sound pretentious ( | all employees were required to obtain an annual physical exam) and should be reserved for contexts where the emphasis is on seeking something out ( | to obtain blood samples). Acquire often suggests a continued, sustained, or cumulative acquisition ( | to acquire poise as one matures), but it can also hint at deviousness ( | to acquire the keys to the safe). Use procure if you want to emphasize the effort involved in bringing something to pass ( | procure a mediated divorce settlement) or if you want to imply maneuvering to possess something ( | procure a reserved parking space). But beware: Procure is so often used to describe the act of obtaining partners to gratify the lust of others ( | to procure a prostitute) that it has acquired somewhat unsavory overtones. Gain also implies effort, usually in getting something advantageous or profitable ( | gain entry, gain victory). In a similar vein, secure underscores the difficulty involved in bringing something to pass and the desire to place it beyond danger ( | secure a permanent peace; secure a lifeline). Attain should be reserved for achieving a high goal or desirable result ( | If she attains the summit of Mt. Everest, she will secure for herself a place in mountaineering history).”

  2. Thanks for that detailed comment, Anders. (And thanks too for the photo of me that adorns the banner at the top of every page of this site.)

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