Why I don’t get gotten

First published at tumblr Proof (v.)

There are some words that are just plain incorrect.  I don’t care what Kleenex says: ‘emboss’ is not a noun. Toilet paper cannot have ‘an emboss’. Take heed, GlaxoSmithKline’s advertising agency.

This, I get.

But then there are words that just look and sound awful. Not because they’re ‘wrong’ per se, but because humans are aesthetic beings, and we like things to be flawless, or at the very least, pretty (some more than others). It’s why proof-readers like copy that ‘reads well’, even if it was never written to be read aloud. And it’s why we created phrases like ‘rolls off the tongue’: because we like words that do as much.

Gotten is a word I just don’t get. I don’t like it. It’s clumsy and it’s messy and apart from a few very rare exceptions (‘ill-gotten gains’ is pretty much a set turn of phrase), it never sounds ‘right’.

Apparently, gotten is as old as feudalism (not that I think this gives it any more credibility) and just as outmoded. Yet for a word so officially ‘archaic’, I’ve been seeing quite a bit of it around. For instance, I recently witnessed gotten ruin an otherwise well-written, semi-formal invitation. How rude! Then, as now, I just couldn’t help thinking that some other word would have been more eloquent, more polite, and less, well, ugly.

Gotten is completely inappropriate in formal settings, and somewhat ungainly in everyday conversation. It looks downright horrific in print. If it were a person, you wouldn’t approve its friend request on facebook. Nor would you invite it out for drinks on Friday night, because it would inevitably turn up late, drunk, and wearing [insert embarassingly daggy apparel of choice] and your entire posse would thus be turned away at the door.

I don’t know if gotten is wrong or right, or just socially awkward, but I know I definitely don’t ‘get’ it.


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