“Get”: What’s In a Word?

When I had to take Latin in middle and high school, I was both impressed and intimidated by the fact the Romans could have so many different meanings for a word. I still remember the verb facere, literally, to make. But it could mean to “do”, “go”, “make” or “perform”, or many other meanings and shades I’d long since forgotten. What’s a student to do?

All the more so if you never took Latin, you might be amazed how many of the Latin forms with the ubiquitous “fac” root migrated to English: facetious, facile, facilitate, facility,factitious. factotum, facade, faction.

You can see the list yourself if you’re interested. Even four years of Latin didn’t prepare me to expect such a variety of meanings. See Notre Dame’s list:

http://www.archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/lookup.pl?stem=fac&ending=ere

But we also know English is one of the hardest and most illogical languages for people from non-English speaking countries to learn. Sure, it borrows a lot from Latin, but also from: Old English, Middle English, French, German, old Norman, and old Anglo Saxon and more — not to mention slang, which can come from anywhere in the world.

France gets a lot of their forbidden pop jargon from American English (le jazz). English borrows thousands of technical and scientific  terms from German and Russian, to name a few. Chefs must master culinary terms and food names from all over the world.

English word usage: “get” is such a mongrel word, yet we’re totally accustomed to it and recognize the meaning by context and nuance. Pressed for a definition, we immediately think “obtain, procure, acquire”, but there are over a hundred more very common usages: possess, receive, fetch, to hear clearly or grasp, capture or seize, receive a punishment or sentence … oh, all right: I’m already sneaking looks at the dictionary!

Dictionary.com (link above) also does a great job on slang usages of “get”.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/get

They listed:

  • 63 accepted verb usages with object (get away with it)
  • 64 as standalone verb (I didn’t get your name)
  • dozens of slang and idiomatic usages (get on the stick, get off the dime)
  • plus synonyms

They even had “getaway”: (adjective, as in getaway car or cabin).

I hope you’ll take a second to scroll down their list. With a word like this, I believe they still missed a few slang usages we usually see in old movies, advertising and CIS thrillers. With a list as long as theirs, it’s hard to be sure I’ve come up with additional usages, but this is what I get:

1. Da money or yer life … get it? (A threat)
2. You gotta get with it (dual-usage slang)
3. GET procedure wp-script-users-login (programming jargon)
4. Get a Midas muffler (purchasing decision)
5. Git along little dogie

That’s all I can think of. I’m glad I grew up with our language. My hat’s off to those who pick up our lingo in only a decade or so.

Now I gots ta git goin’, an’ there’s another good ‘un: “go”..

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