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13 July, 2008

Strange and stilted language

Location: the lexicon
Mood: baffled

There are many things that are commonly said in the English language that really, when you consider them carefully, make very little grammatical sense or semantic sense whatsoever. And I am not sure if these things are actually errors or just awkward usage that has become commonplace. I was just discussing this recently with a sister of mine, and we were laughing about some of these.

1. You have got to be kidding

The whole "have got" in front of an infinitive. How odd is that? Actually, this awkward use of "got" is one of the most frequent examples. What does it even mean? I don't know. "Have" is about possession, but also is used as a modifier verb in particular voices (what is it? perfect? imperfect? something like that). So the "have" is not strange:

We have been there. Fine.
We have taken a bath together. Fine.
We have had ice cream from the place next to the barber shop. Fine
We have come.
We have seen.
We have conquered.
Whatever.

But what's this "got" to do with anything? Maybe the problem is "got". Is "got" even a word? I am not entirely sure. I know that my ex-girlfriend's British father would apparently scoff at the use of the word "got" under just about any circumstance. So it stands to reason, it is not what we would refer to as "proper English".

To "get" is to acquire or buy or take. But people also use "get" as "get going" or "get lost" or "get out" or "get away", in which case it is more like "go in the direction of". Because it would make no sense to say "Acquire lost" or "Acquire out of here" or "Acquire into it".

So I guess "get" also means "become" in the imperative form.

But is it a "good" word? Or is it a lazy word? And even if we settle and agree that "get" is okay, what about "got"? It probably takes on all the same meanings as "get", but in the past tense.

He got lost.
We got going.
They got their money back.
The squirrel got away.

But this strange one is the one before an infinitive.

And I just realized, it is not only "got" but "get" too.

Not only have we got to be going... but how did he get to go? You've got to be kidding me? They get to sit in front, and we've got to sit in back? This is getting to be really annoying!

Of course you know what all these sentences mean. But are any of them "good English"?

What should we have said?

Not only must we be going... but how was he able to go? You must be kidding me? They are allowed to sit in front, and we must sit in back? This is becoming really annoying!

So it's lazy. Right?

On to example number two.

2. What it is, is that that car wasn't actually for sale!

What is strange about that sentence? Um... let me see. We have is is and we have that that. Those are really two examples, but I decided to stick them together into one sentence just to save time because it is getting to be late :)

What it is, is...

I guess that may not be improper grammar. But it certainly is odd. I guess it is conversational form resulting in awkwardness. We should really just say "That car wasn't actually for sale" but instead, we want to make a big production out of it. Here's the logic:

Instead of saying:

REASON

We say:

The reason is REASON

And that's strange.

As for the that that phenomenon, I am not really sure that that is something I have got time to get into tonight. It's not that I don't want to talk about it. What it is, is that it is getting to be past midnight, and I have got to go to sleep.

See what I mean?

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