2019 US-to-UK Word of the Year: gotten

For part 1 of the 2019 Words of the Year, click here.  Now we're on to the US-to-UK WotY.

Radzi Chinyanganya, WotY inspiration
I had pretty much decided not to do a US-to-UK Word of the Year for 2019. The words nominated were generally ones that had made a big splash in English recently on both sides of the Atlantic, rather than long-standing Americanisms that were making a splash in Britain. I had begun to think that BrE had reached peak Americanism. But then I went through my top tweets of the year, and saw one that made me think: "Oh yeah, that's it."


The US-to-UK Word of the Year is:

gotten



Here's the tweet that reminded me: 
 


Now, this choice might be controversial in that gotten is not just and not originally American. It is one of those linguistic things that mostly died in the UK while it thrived in the US. When I moved to the UK, a colleague told me that you'd still hear gotten among old people in Yorkshire. I haven't had the chance to bother any old people in Yorkshire about that, but -en forms of get were found far and wide in English dialects. That said, the OED has it as "chiefly U.S." and it is widely perceived in the UK as an Americanism. In England you do hear it more from Americans (in the media, if not in person) than from British folk. Here's a bit of what I said about it in The Prodigal Tongue:

That part of the book goes on to examine the evidence that gotten only really got going in the US—that it was not used much in the formal English of those who came from England to the Americas, and that its use exploded only in the late 19th century, when the US was finding a voice of its own. (Want to know more? I have a book to sell you!)

So, while gotten is not just American nor originally American, America is where gotten made its fortune. The "standard" British participle for get is have got, as discussed (along with its meaning) in this old post.

What's interesting about gotten in Britain in 2019 is that it's been used quite a bit in places where you don't tend to hear non-standard, regional grammatical forms: like on the BBC and in Parliament. And I have heard it among my child's middle-class (orig. AmE) tween friends here in the southeast. Here are some interesting examples, besides our friend Radzi.*

On the CBeebies (BBC channel for young children) website:


In a BBC news story about an orange seagull in Buckinghamshire:

Hospital staff said the bird "had somehow gotten himself covered in curry or turmeric".

In the linguistically (and otherwise) conservative Telegraph newspaper:**
Yet, it is the ageing filter that has gotten most people talking.

By then-Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who got into trouble for saying:
The Lib Dems have gotten kind of Taliban, haven’t they?

And in the House of Commons:
  • "I would like to share some of the thoughts of organisations that have gotten in touch in recent days to share their experience of training mental health first aiders..." —Luciana Berger, 17 Jan 2019
  • "...those in Sinn Féin say, 'Well, we’ve gotten away with two years of saying we’re not going back into government until...'" —Gregory Campbell, 5 Mar 2019
  • "...the mess that this place has gotten itself into..."  —Deirdre Brock 19 Mar 2019
  • "...the best way of dealing with this is not through a voluntary levy based on the least that can be gotten away with" —Jim Shannon, 2 July  2019
There's a difference, though, between the ones from the House of Commons and the others. The parliamentary ones have gotten in a set phrase of some sort. It's long been the case that British speakers say gotten in close proximity to mess and into, since they're alluding to Laurel and Hardy films, where gotten is indeed the form. And in the other cases above, we've got gotten away with and gotten in touch, which are figurative and idiomatic uses. (Neither of those particular idioms is particularly American.) Since gotten is heard in Parliament as part of set phrases, it's not clear that it would be a 'normal' way for those speakers to form the past participle of get in general.

The other examples above (and indeed Radzi's uses that inspired my original tweet) are have gotten just as a plain old verb in its many meanings. Those interest me more because they do seem more like the re-introduction of the get-got-gotten paradigm, and not just certain constructions that have been remembered with a certain verb form.

A lot of the British gotten that I've been exposed to is from homegrown children's television and children, and that's what really seals it for me as a 2019 word. After 20 years of not hearing it much (and training myself out of saying it much), I'm really noticing it. You can find lots of people, particularly older people, in the UK talking about its ugliness or wrongness, but the fact that younger people are un-self-consciously saying it makes me think that it will get bigger still.

And on that note, a bit later than is decent, I say goodbye to 2019!


Footnotes:

* I haven't presented corpus numbers in this post, since the bulk of the gotten numbers in corpora tend to be (in news) quoted Americans or (in other things) in set phrases. The Hansard corpus tool at Huddersfield University doesn't seem to be able to separate the gottens from the ill-gottens—which is a form that has remained in BrE despite the more general loss of gotten.

** (I got quite a few google hits for gotten in the Telegraph, for which I could see the gotten in the preview. But for some, when I clicked through, the same sentence had got. Might this be because some stories were originally posted with gotten then changed when the "error" was caught?)

19 comments

  1. Meanwhile, in the US, many (most?) people under the age 35 or thereabouts are all saying gotten with a massive glottal stop in the middle, to help provide an authentic UK experience :)

    I even hear it on NPR from their younger staff, and sadly confess that I find it quite jarring. Not as jarring as hearing UK restaurant staff saying "Enjoy!" but that's another story.

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    1. If you come from the part of the US that I come from, it has nothing to do with age: there's a general rule that makes /t/ into glottal stop before an 'en' syllable. I have no choice in my native dialect but to use a glottal stop in 'gotten' and 'mitten' and 'button'. (And in fact, I only recently learned that there are Americans who don't do that--so I lived in four states pre-2000 where that pronunciation was unremarkable.) Nothing to do with the change toward glottal stops in Britain, which happen in a broader range of contexts.

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    2. I know that some Utahns say "mou'ain" for "mountain" with the first vowel somewhat nasalized. Is that the dialect you're referring to?

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  2. Very interesting, thank you.
    Now how come "my mistake" has turned into "my bad" ??

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  3. I've heard young people say "gotten" here in Australia recently and cringed inwardly. To me it is ugly and unnecessary. I guess I am now officially a grumpy old person.

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    1. If "gotten" is ugly, then why is "forgotten" OK? Or is that ugly too?

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  4. Wrt your second footnote, this may also be the stemming algorithm of the search engine. Search engines reduce both words in the index and search terms to their stem in order to be able to produce results for non-exact matches, i.e. plural/singular and conjugation.

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    1. That shouldn’t affect the preview of the article, though.

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  5. Great post! I’m also seeing it more and more every year in A Level students’ coursework.

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  6. I was briefly one of several editors of the village newsletter. (You know the collective know "a squabble of editors"?) One person--a very difficult person to like, although I can't claim to have put much effort into it--was deeply offended by my use of "gotten." Which made it a pleasure to use.

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  7. English authors trying to write American dialogue used to put grossly ungrammatical (or misinterpreted) gottens into it, like "He hasn't gotten any sense", which can only mean "He hasn't acquired any sense" in AmE. I wonder if British gotten-users maintain American semantics or if they are using it more generally.

    There are similar issues around the mandative subjunctive, which is alive and well in AmE but seems to sometimes be replaced by the simple infinitive in formal BrE rather than should + infinitive, which is both AmE and BrE. Where AmE has "I recommend that he (talk / should talk) to a specialist", BrE has "I recommend that he (should talk / talks) to a specialist", the latter of which is totally ungrammatical to my AmE-tuned ear.

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    1. I've seen cases of British actors with PERFECT American accents, still flub up the got/gotten distinction completely. It's almost like some of them think gotten is slang that The Yanks use at random, rather than a verb form with a subtle but distinct meaning.

      Some such individuals have studied languages like Latin at these elite "public" schools. I'm perplexed at how somebody who has that kind of training in complex grammar, has listened to enough American speech to nail the accent can honestly not know that gotten is a verb form and not randomly used slang.

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  8. I heard "gotten" on BBC Radio 4 today from a British reporter in "From Our Own Correspondent".

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  9. BrE, Scot, mid 60s. Third attempt to post.
    As a recovering “grammar/language grumpy old man”, I was surprised to find that many of Lynnes’s examples didn’t sound very wrong to my ears. However, I recently heard a tv presenter, talking about an Alaskan rodent, say “He has chose the contents of his winter larder carefully”. I barely refrained from screaming “chosen”. The comparison between got/gotten and chose/chosen intrigues me.

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  10. May I make an early suggestion for the imported word of 2020?
    I have recently heard several British people use 'from the get-go' where old fogies like me would stay 'from the start' or 'from the beginning'
    I had heard get-go as a sort of folksy, Garrison Keillor, construction, definitely AmE and never BrE until this year

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    1. I always keep a list, so I'm always happy to have things added to it. 2018 is when 'get-go' starts to rise in BrE in the News on the Web corpus. We'll have to see what it does in 2020!

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    2. To me, it sometimes sounds like "from the gecko' with a glottal stop for the "t".

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  11. The CBeebies example is interesting, as it preserves the traditional Br use of perfect tense with "just" even as it adopts the Am participle. I think I'm right in saying that an American would say "Justin's house is crazy - but it just got crazier!"

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  12. Here's another language blogger who noticed the rise of UK gotten, back in 2017: "Stroppy Editor" Tom Freeman. He goes into detail — lots of quotes and ngrams — on the decline of the original gotten ca. 1500–1700, followed by the American revival starting ca. 1900. It's a good complement to the explanation of social history in The Prodigal Tongue.

    Can't resist repeating this delicious quote from Lowth, condemning "have got" in 1762: "a very great Corruption, by which the Form of the Past Time is confounded with that of the Participle"!

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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)