You Get No Gotten in the New Yorker.

Ben Yagoda has a piece at Lingua Franca about one of the New Yorker‘s weird stylistic tics I don’t think I’d noticed:

Among the various quirks of The New Yorker‘s house style, maybe the quirkiest is the insistence on got as the past participle of get—that is, to write had got instead of had gotten to mean “become” or “obtained” or any of the numerous other senses of get. Just a few of the most recent examples:

● “I had got such satisfaction out of the systems she introduced, the sharp pencils and crisp manila folders.”—Lena Dunham, September 1, 2014
● “It drove away, but not, Kwasman told a reporter, before he had got a look at the passengers.”—Amy Davidson, July 28, 2014.
● “Kennedy got about seventy per cent of the African-American vote, much more than Stevenson had got.”—Louis Menand, July 21, 2014.

Every other publication would have used gotten. Every other publication in the United States, that is. In the British Isles, gotten got unfashionable in the early 1800s and disappeared from the scene. When Henry Higgins sings,”I think she’s got it,” he means “I think she’s gotten it,” not “I think she has it.”

I also didn’t realize how bizarre the US gotten sounds to others:

I was once interviewed on an Irish radio station about my blog, Not One-Off Britishisms, and was asked for an example of a British usage that had popped up in the United States. I mentioned The New Yorker‘s preference for got over gotten. The host was gobsmacked. “GOT-ten?” he bellowed. “GOT-ten? Do you expect me to believe people over there actually say GOT-ten?”

I like the fact that Yagoda started a Facebook group called “Get The New Yorker to Start Using ‘Gotten.’” Needless to say, it had no effect, and he’s “accepted got as a New Yorker eccentricity, like doubling consonants in words like marvellous and travelled, and being militant in identifying nonrestrictive elements of a sentence.” I wonder how a publication so strongly identified with an American city came to adopt and stubbornly cling to these very un-American usages?

Comments

  1. Harold Ross, I think; probably in 1926 these things seemed less strange.

  2. NYC was strongly Loyalist, if I remember correctly.

  3. And the famous New Yorker Yo – ё – the insistence on using diaerisis, not sure if it falls under stylistics or orthography.

  4. Didn’t Professor Higgins sing “By George, she’s got it”?

  5. David Marjanović says:

    I also didn’t realize how bizarre the US gotten sounds to others:

    Me neither. A born-and-bred Englishman has insisted to me that gotten is perfectly cromulent and hasn’t fallen out of informal use.

    And the famous New Yorker Yo – ё – the insistence on using diaerisis, not sure if it falls under stylistics or orthography.

    That was universal – zoölogy… – till the 1950s or so.

  6. “Gotten” being replaced with “got” presumably parallels “drunken” going to “drunk”, etc. And we still have “eaten” – I’m not aware of a shift to “have you ate dinner yet?”

    Are there any other survivals in US English of this type? “Holpen”?

  7. And of course there’s always ‘ill-gotten’, as so many of our gains have been…

  8. The OED1 (1899) says: “In England the form gotten of the pa. pple. is almost obsolete (exc. dial.) being superseded by got; in U.S. literature gotten is still very common, although Webster 1864 gave it as ‘obsolescent’.” Note that preterite got is historically an intrusion of the participle; the original preterite was gat, as in the compound beget, begat, begotten and the derived noun begat, which survive in both BrE and AmE, along with the far more common compound forget, forgot, forgotten”. The adjective gotten also has a separate existence in ill-gotten and (archaic) well-gotten.

  9. I think I distinguish I have got = I own, and I have gotten = I have become.

    Am I getting this wrong?

  10. @David Marjanović: Is it my impression that the diaeresis was more common in the early twentieth century than it is now, but it was certainly not universal. I just picked up three books printed in America in the 1920s and 1930s, and not one of them used the diaeresis. Moreover, a number of examples of early-twentieth century writing that I know did include diaereses came from authors (such as H. P. Lovecraft) who also had other affectations and Briticisms in their spelling.

  11. “Gotten” is by no means uncommon in Ireland, harly even qualifying as an Americanism: see the Google hits on Oireachtas debate transcripts or the Irish Independent.

    I would be interested to know who the spluttering radio presenter was; he was either a clown or a crank.

  12. Roger Depledge says:

    As we chuckle indulgently at the quirks in the house style the New Yorker strictly enforces (so unlike the despicable peeving of the prescriptivists’ mere recommendations), may one ask what might be an acceptable procedure for revising a house style. How often? Who would it involve (sorry, US whom)? Temperately or passionately?

  13. I’ve Gotten some Gotten in New Yorker

    gotten| Search : The New Yorker
    http://www.newyorker.com/search?…gotten
    Results 231 – 240 of 979 – Finally, finally, it’s the first of July, and you know what that means: Stumptown Stubbies have arrived in New York. It is never fair when …
    gotten| Search : The New Yorker

    http://www.newyorker.com/search?…gotten
    Results 841 – 850 of 969 – On St. Patrick’s Day this year, Ford announced the reopening of the plant. The town had gotten a lot of attention when it was revealed …

  14. Didn’t Professor Higgins sing “By George, she’s got it”?

    He sings both; the line you remember is the triumphant conclusion, but he starts out merely thinking she’s got it.

    I’ve Gotten some Gotten in New Yorker

    Even Homer nods…

  15. Ajay:

    Once upon a time all strong verbs had past participles in -en. The final nasal was variably and inconsistently lost in Middle English, and the stranded final schwa (spelt -e) was dropped soon afterwards. Variation like broke ~ broken has persisted till Present-Day English for some verbs, hence dialectal differences. Actually eat for eaten is not unheard of:

    It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
    And round and round it flew.

    In most cases one or the other form has become fixed (almost at random, though some “natural clusters” of originally (and, in isolated cases, secondarily) strong verbs may show a common preference: driven, striven, ridden, written, bitten vs. drunk, swum, run, stung, swung, sunk). There are no strict rules: UK English has got, but forgotten, begotten, ill-gotten. For some verbs, both forms have survived thanks to functional specialisation. They are no longer in free variation but one of them is a true participle or an adjective used predicatively (“I have drunk too much”, “He was drunk”), and the other is an attributive adjective (“What shall we do with a drunken sailor?”). Only sunk is now used as the past participle (“The ship has sunk”, “The ship was sunk with a torpedo”), and only sunken as an adjective before a noun (“sunken eyes”), but I think both form are acceptable and can be used interchangeably as adjectives in predicative functions (“Her cheeks were sunk(en)”), though again “sunken in” or “half-sunken” more often keep the suffix.

  16. J. W. Brewer says:

    In certain semi-fixed legal/political contexts, “holden” for “held” survived in AmEng into the 19th and perhaps early 20th centuries – almost always in participial form, reciting that e.g. a decision had been made or statute had been enacted at a duly-constituted session of [name of court/legislature] holden at [name of city] in/on [year or more specific date]. “Holpen” for “helped” is familiar to a diminishing but still non-zero percentage of AmEng-speaking Christians who are used to hearing/chanting the Magnificat in a 16th century translation where part of Luke 1:54 is rendered “He hath holpen his servant Israel.” (There are a few other “holpens” in the KJV Old Testament, but in passages less likely to be so frequently heard/recited as to be known by heart.)

  17. I note in the Irish Independent ghits for gotten a lot of snowcloned versions of (Laurel and) Hardy’s catchphrase “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into”, though there are plenty of hits independent of it. In fact, Hardy always said “nice mess”: WP says the phrase was first used in The Mikado in that form, and speculates that the replacement of nice with fine is the result of contamination with the title of the L & H film Another Fine Mess. Laurel was an Englishman, Hardy an American. but at one point Laurel actually echoes the phrase, saying “Here’s another nice mess I’ve gotten you into.”

  18. Higgins also said:

    “By rights she should be taken out and hung
    for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.”

    Noel Coward took Lerner to task for not using hanged.

    Lerner pointed out that it needed to rhyme. Ah, show biz!

  19. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Gotten” strikes me invariably as either American or Biblical (or, I suppose, both.)

    However my teenage son uses it often despite constant prescriptive mockery from me, and as far as I can recall he is neither Biblical nor American.

    I blame the internet.

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    I should get him a subscription to the New Yorker.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    my teenage son uses it often despite constant prescriptive mockery from me

    Try changing “despite” to “because of”. Just pretend you don’t notice.

  22. Stefan Holm says:

    A comparative aspect of this is that every Swedish strong verb has got(ten) an ending in -en in the past participle (well, I could think of maybe one exception). This ‘-en’ ending is though restricted to the common gender. In neuter it is ‘-et’ and in plural ‘-na’. Thus:
    drunken → drucken, drucket druckna
    forgotten → förgäten, förgätet, förgätna
    stolen →stulen, stulet, stulna

    This is however valid only to the proper past participle, i.e. to be, is, was, will be etc. stolen. As for the ‘past preterite’ (I know of no better term) has stolen the Swedish suffix is ‘-it’ in all genders. This ‘-it’ is a dialectal variety of the past participle neuter ‘-et’. In the spirit of king Salomon we once accepted the Swee ‘-it’ variety for the past preterite (has …) and the Geat ‘-et’ for the past participle (is …). So han har stulit ‘he has stolen’ vs. det är stulet ‘’it is stolen’.

    But still today Swedish students mix up the spellings with ’i’ and ’e’ depending upon whether they’re easterners os westerners by birth.

  23. You never noticed this, Hat? Of all the strange New Yorkerisms, this is the one that bothers me most (or at all, really; the others are merely goofy). When they stuff “got” into the mouths of American characters in fiction, it’s…. I don’t know what it is. Distracting?

  24. A lot of Australians use ‘gotten’. Perhaps they got it off the Americans, but I don’t think it’s stigmatised.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Is it my impression that the diaeresis was more common in the early twentieth century than it is now, but it was certainly not universal. I just picked up three books printed in America in the 1920s and 1930s, and not one of them used the diaeresis.

    I restrict my claim to scientific papers.

    British style or affectation thereto should make no difference, however: the diaeresis is equally dead no on both sides of the big pond, and it seems to have been universal on both in science writing.

  26. Even if the diaeresis is out of the picture, there’s still the decision of whether to use a hyphen in words like cooperate, coexist, and reelection. I don’t think many styles would omit the hyphen in anti-immigration, though (or use a diaeresis).

  27. You never noticed this, Hat? Of all the strange New Yorkerisms, this is the one that bothers me most (or at all, really; the others are merely goofy). When they stuff “got” into the mouths of American characters in fiction, it’s…. I don’t know what it is. Distracting?

    Maybe it’s in part because I don’t often read the fiction unless it’s by somebody I know and like, like Alice Munro or Tessa Hadley. But now that my attention has been called to it I’m sure I’ll be noticing it regularly.

  28. I checked several issues of The Physical Review for the relevant period. There was not an “iönization” or “coöperative behavior” in sight.

  29. A lot of Australians use ‘gotten’.

    I expect this is a matter of survival at the periphery; for a long time, everywhere outside England was peripheral.

  30. Brett, there wouldn’t be an “iönization”, since “io” couldn’t be a digraph. No diaeresis is needed to clarify the pronunciation.

  31. @gary I think I distinguish I have got = I own, and I have gotten = I have become.

    Am I getting this wrong?

    I am an AusE speaker and I agree with you. If I am understanding this post correctly, most Americans (except in The New Yorker), agree with us, but for BrE speakers since the early 19th c. “I have gotten” is not possible and “I have got” is used instead. e.g. they would say “I have got a little fat this yeat”, “I have got married since we last spoke” etc.

    This is the first I have heard of this and I am very surprised.

  32. @Keith Ivey: I meant that one as a joke; it probably would have been funnier as the last item in a list of three. However, your comment did set me thinking. The idea of the diaeresis seems to be to disambiguate between two possible pronunciations of the same written vowel cluster. However, there is only a crude relationship between spelling and pronunciation in English anyway. Often, the only way to know a pronunciation is to be familiar with the word. So why did anyone focus on the diaeresis as a way trying to clarify things? Is it just borrowed from other languages? In any case, the diaeresis is clearly unnecessary. We very rarely encounter cases where either pronunciation of a vowel cluster leads to a sensible word. (The only actual example of confusion on this point that I can think of off the top of my head is in the name of the Harvard/MIT academic bookstore.)

  33. Yes, sorry, Brett. I should’ve realized.

    At Yale we didn’t get jokey with the pronunciation of our co-op name and used a hyphen to make that clear. But I see the co-op is gone now.

  34. matematichica says:

    The MIT Technology Review still insists on diaeresis in cooperate and similar ilk. It is hilariously pretentious.

    The editor, Jason Pontin, says the following about it:

    “As for the diareses, it’s just something we do: it shows you that the second vowel is pronounced as a second syllable. The New Yorker does it in this country, and it’s not uncommon in the United Kingdom. There are a couple of other idiosyncratic style uses that I’ve been less successful in imposing on our copy desk. I’d love to insist on what’s called “logical punctuation” in the English style, but the moral weight of the company insists that “MIT Technology Review is an American publication.”

    “Logical punctation.” Alas.

    (From the comments here
    http://www.technologyreview.com/news/514406/data-won-the-us-election-now-can-it-save-the-world/
    )

  35. Bathrobe,
    “A lot of Australians use ‘gotten’. Perhaps they got it off the Americans, but I don’t think it’s stigmatised.”

    This reminds me to wonder if the got/gotten split doesn’t go back to dialectal variation in Britain, with “gotten” being more northern along with some other American features – /bin/ for “been” for instance. Since Australian derives from southeastern varieties, you wouldn’t expect to see it other than as a borrowing from American.

  36. I had not noticed that in Technology Review. However, I don’t read the magazine much any more, and it gets a complete editorial redesign every four or five years; so the diaeresis might be a newer thing for that publication. I may check later in some older issues.

  37. Do any of these coöperation-using publications still use rôle?

  38. My mother says “I have et my lunch”. I’m not sure how you would spell it. She had a very posh Colonial education.

  39. It’s traditionally spelled “eat,” which causes no end of confusion.

  40. Hmm, I used to say “I et my dinner” (not have et, and not lunch) and we were a distinctly non-posh family. It took me quite a while to understand that the word I pronounced “et” was the same word that was spelled (I mean spelt) “ate.”

  41. Jongseong Park says:

    Yes, “ate” (past form of “eat”) is spelled the same in Britain and in the U.S. but generally pronounced “et” in the former and “eight” in the latter. We already mentioned “been”, and another example of an Atlantic split in the pronunciation of verb forms is “shone”, which rhymes with “John” in Britain but with “stone” in the U.S.

  42. “My mother says “I have et my lunch”

    ‘Et’ along with ‘aint’ was one of the linguistic no-no’s in my mid-last-century, Southern-American youth. It was considered very unrefined.

  43. So why did anyone focus on the diaeresis as a way trying to clarify things? Is it just borrowed from other languages?

    Dutch, which has a pretty reasonable orthography, uses diaeresiseses very systematically. New York apparently used to have a Dutch elite (“élite”) in parallel with its English one up until the 18th-century invention of economics from which it never recovered.

    (I now live in the Netherlands and read a lot of Dutch, but diaeresis in English still looks stupid (“affected”) to me.)

  44. What are the relate frequencies of “naïveté”, “naiveté”, “naïvete”, “naivete” in edited prose? I would guess 40:20:0:1. I prefer “naivety” myself.

    MW has “naïf”, “naive”, “naïveté”.

  45. @Jongseong Park

    Another surprise.
    “shone”, which rhymes with “John” in Britain but with “stone” in the U.S.

    Really?? Why have I never noticed that in American TV shows or movies? “The sun shone” is not a rare phrase.

  46. don’t mention the fête!

  47. marie-lucie says:

    “The sun shone”

    The verb form is not that common in speech, as opposed to “was shining”. The pronunciation I am familiar with (both coasts of Canada) rhymes it with gone (and scone), not with «stone.

  48. My students (American of course) often misspell “shone” as “shown.” I’ve also noticed this error in a Vachel Lindsay poem.

  49. Marie-Lucie, you mean it rhymes with gone (and scone), not with stone (and scone).

    Also, use of shone did decrease in the 20th century, but shined didn’t increase that much.

  50. marie-lucie says:

    KI:

    scone

    I am familiar with both pronunciations. I think that people for whom scones are a traditional food item rhyme the word with gone, while others use the spelling pronunciation suggested by stone. I live in Nova Scotia, a place that values its traditions.

    shone

    I was not thinking of shone vs shined, but of shone as the past tense, period. It seems to me that I rarely hear anyone say it and it is much more often written than spoken. That’s probably why some people use the regularized form shined instead.

  51. Transitive shine always has the past tense shined, as in Harold shined his shoes yesterday. That’s a separate issue from either the pronunciation of shone or the use of intransitive shone.

  52. Harold shined his shoes, but he shone his flashlight…

    Or is that right? I can’t even tell anymore.

  53. Stefan Holm says:

    Judging from German and Swedish ‘shine’ looks like a Gmc class I strong verb. Infinitive-preterite-participle is in Ger. scheinen-schien-geschienen and in Sw. skina-sken-‘skinen’ (the last form extinct in modern Swedish). My textbook gives bite-bit-bit(ten) as an English example of class I verbs. As for ‘shined his shoes’ it’s impossible in Swedish, where the verb is exclusively intransitive. Couldn’t you Anglophones for the sake of conformity have stuck to something like “shine-shin-shinnen”?

  54. David Marjanović says:

    Ger. scheinen-schien-geschienen

    That’s only half the story, and means “seem”. The other half is scheinen-scheinte-gescheint; it’s what the sun does.

    Prescriptively, that is. The second one is so rare that tends to be replaced by the first one; both sound about right to me when applied to the sun…

  55. Eh, the strong verbs have become so irregular in Modern English that they no longer have a pattern. This earlier version of the Wikipedia article gives the nitty-gritty details. Here’s a more synchronic classification based on the Cambridge Grammar:

    Without -en in the participle:

    drink/drank/drunk, shrink/shrank/shrunk, sink/sank/sunk, stink/stank/stunk, ring/rang/rung, sing/sang/sung, spring/sprang/sprung, begin/began/begun, swim/swam/swum

    dig/dug, win/won, spin/spun, cling/clung, fling/flung, sling/slung, sting/stung, string/strung, swing/swung, wring/wrung, slink/slunk, stick/stuck

    bind/bound, find/found, grind/ground, wind/wound

    abide/abode, dive/dove, fight/fought, hang/hung, hold/held, shine/shone, sit/sat, spit/spat, sneak/snuck, strike/struck

    come/came/come, run/ran/run

    With -en in the participle:

    drive/drove/driven, ride/rode/ridden, rise/rose/risen, strive/strove/striven, write/wrote/written

    bite/bit/bitten, hide/hid/hidden

    beat/beat/beaten

    bid/bade/bidden, blow/blew/blown, grow/grew/grown, know/knew/known, throw/threw/thrown, draw/drew/drawn, eat/ate/eaten, fall/fell/fallen, give/gave/given, see/saw/seen, slay/slew/slain, forsake/forsook/forsaken, shake/shook/shaken, take/took/taken

    break/broke/broken, choose/chose/chosen, freeze/froze/frozen, lie/lay/lain, speak/spoke/spoken, steal/stole/stolen, bear/bore/borne, swear/swore/sworn, tear/tore/torn, wear/wore/worn, tread/trod/trodden, wake/woke/woken, weave/wove/woven

    do/did/done, fly/flew/flown

    be/were/been (special case)

    go/went/gone

  56. marie-lucie says:

    shine/shone vs shine/shined

    I had forgotten that there were two verbs shine intransitive and transitive respectively. A shoeshine shines shoes. The sunshine just shines (at least the sun does).

  57. The seashore seashell seller was not alone;
    Her companion shined shoes as the sun shone.
    (Everyone knows that ‘shone’ rhymes with ‘scone’.)

    The shoeshine and the seashell seller are now both long gone
    And night has fallen where once the son shone.
    (Everyone knows that “shone” rhymes with “scone”.)

  58. FFS. It’s “sun” both times, of course.

  59. Anna J. Perna says:

    The MIT Technology Review (on diarrhoesis): it’s not uncommon in the United Kingdom

    Yes, it bloody is.

    And if there’s one thing that makes me get all red in the face it’s newspapers & magazines on a mission to change English. The Guardian is trying to phase out actress, and then there’s the despicable cigaret.

    I’ve noticed recently, in London, lots of people of all ages using gotten in speech.

    On the circumflexes and other accents, my own usage depends on which keyboard I’m using. I’m far less likely to bother searching around for diaeresis on a UK keyboard, whereas a Norwegian one has both ö and ø (as well as all the French ones except cedillas).

  60. Des: I doubt if any accent rhymes gone and alone any more, though gone doesn’t fit neatly into any of the lexical sets: for me it is CLOTH (= THOUGHT), despite not having a fricative as words of that set generally do, and in Australia it has a vowel unique to itself, [ɒː].

  61. I am familiar with both pronunciations…

    There’s also a third one for Scone, as in “the Stone of Scone” /ˈskuːn/. 😉

  62. John: That’s the joke, which the Canonical Scone Joke was there to signpost. (But my jokes are used to going ungotten.)

  63. Annapurna:

    Cigaret was standard for a while in the U.S., particularly in newspapers, but has now gawn out again. except that it is preserved frozen in the surnames of certain Navajos. Actor for actress seems as over-the-top as prince for princess would be, if not more so: Dustin Hoffman aside, being female is what they call in these parts a “bona fide occupational qualification” for actressing.

    If you are using Windows, you might get a kick out of my Whacking John keyboard driver, which gives you a way to type over 900 characters that is meant to be fairly easy to remember. Whacking John is designed for UK physical keyboards, and is a drop-in replacement for Microsoft’s UK keyboard driver. It comes in national variants called Whacking Sandy, Taffy, and Mick, too, as well as the U.S.-based Moby Latin. The diaeresis is AltGr+; followed by the letter you want to diaerisize.

  64. Des: I doubt if any accent rhymes gone and alone any more

    I believe you’ve (uncharacteristically) missed the point of his very clever verse.

  65. And the Oscar for best supporting actor in a female role goes to…

  66. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

    ~~ headdesk ~~

  67. A. J. Perna says:

    Thanks, John. That’s a terrific list of Whackings (no cedilla ç?). Sadly mine’s an Apple keyboard.

    I hadn’t thought of prince versus princess. It is pretty sexist. From now on it’s Princess Charles, Princess Buster and the artist formerly known as Princess. And no more actors.

  68. marie-lucie says:

    mollymooly: And the Oscar for best supporting actor in a female role goes to…

    Dustin Hoffman! Robin Williams!

  69. David Marjanović says:

    Actor for actress seems as over-the-top as prince for princess would be, if not more so:

    I thought it was quite unremarkable in the US by now?

    Sadly mine’s an Apple keyboard.

    “Sadly”!?! Apple has much better keyboard drivers than IBM/Lenovo and Microsoft together ever dared imagine! Hold Alt, press almost any key, and marvel at the wonders that unfold before your eyes. Then hold Alt+Shift and press almost any key… This is the one thing I miss about Macs.

  70. I thought it was quite unremarkable in the US by now?

    It is, but some fuddy-duddies haven’t reconciled themselves to it.

  71. I would love to release Moby Latin and Whacking Latin for Mac, but I know of no conversion software between Windows, native Mac, and X keyboard drivers, nor any decent documentation on writing either Mac or X tables, and I myself only have access to Windows. In Moby/Whacking, the AltGr+, sequence basically puts a cedilla or ogonek on the following keystroke, so the ç character is obtained by typing AltGr+, followed by c (or C for upper case). The only letter that can take both is e, and e-cedilla is very rare.

    I don’t have actual evidence, but I think actor as applied to women is far more common in BrE than AmE.

  72. All the American women I’ve known who tread the stage prefer to be called “actors,” but I admit that’s a limited sample.

  73. In Google News “actress Meryl Streep” has 24 hits and “actor Meryl Streep” just 2. In Web “actress” gives 1780k hits and “actor” only 102k, but GWeb counts are notoriously unreliable.

  74. marie-lucie says:

    actress vs actor: “some fuddy-duddies haven’t reconciled themselves to it”

    Since English words for various professions are mostly unisex (teacher, lawyer, singer, etc), words like actress seem to be exceptions. But on the other hand, the lack of “gender” marking often imposes a “default” interpretation. In North America a “primary school teacher” is usually assumed to be female, but I remember reading (some years ago) an article in a French magazine about a little girl in the US diagnosed with some chronic disease who could not attend school, so that “un instituteur” was coming to her house and taught her in her bedroom. I doubt very much that a male teacher was meant, but to a French journalist “a teacher” implied a man, not “une institutrice”. The fact that some names traditionally given to males are now also given to females also gives rise to misunderstandings. A few years ago while I was visiting my family in France, my brother-in-law talked about “une pianiste canadienne” he had heard of: he meant Glenn Gould, who he thought was a woman, like “actor” Glenn Close. The ambiguity of “singer” can be resolved (to a certain extent) by mentioning the voice, but “actor” is truly ambiguous, and it is awkward to have to specify “male actor” and “female actor” all the time. As for “male prince” and “female prince” …

  75. “actor” is truly ambiguous, and it is awkward to have to specify “male actor” and “female actor” all the time

    This is of course the standard argument for keeping sexist terminology, but it is quickly torpedoed when you consider the vast majority of occupations for which no gender-specific terms exist, not to mention languages which do not even mark gender in pronouns — and yet they somehow manage to navigate the world! It is always easy to find compelling reasons to keep things the way we’re used to; of course, once the world changes and we no longer make the old distinctions, the new way comes to seem equally compelling.

  76. Re:”female prince”

    Exactly this has happened back in 1740, when Maria Theresa was elected by Hungarian nobility Rex Hungariae (king of Hungary), since Hungarian constitution did not allow for ruling queen.

    It is said that after coronation, Hungarian nobles shouted ‘Vitam et sanguinem pro rege nostro Maria Theresia’ – ‘Our life and blood for our king, Maria Theresa!’

  77. Female princes? What about female princesses with male names? For example, HRH Princess Michael of Kent.

  78. Princess Michael of Kent doesn’t have a male name. Her name is Marie Christine. ‘Princess Michael of Kent’ is her title based on her husband’s position as she is not a princess in her own right by birth. In the same manner, in formal usage a married woman can be addressed as ‘Mrs. John Smith’.

  79. Indeed. Similarly, Harriet Vane becomes Lady Peter Wimsey and is addressed as “Lady Peter” after she marries Lord Peter.

  80. marie-lucie says:

    Some time ago I read – and saved, but I can’t find it – a very interesting, well-researched article about the evolution of female titles in English, especially “Mrs.”. The author makes the point that modern authors usually assume that “Mrs,” has always applied to married women, which distorts their perceptions of earlier social relationships and the economic role of women beyond the household. Originally “Mrs.” meant “mistress”, the female equivalent of “master”, which was used of women who had their own businesses (and were not necessarily wives, widows or daughters of “masters” whose business they had continued). It was irrelevant whether they were married or not. For instance, in Victorian novels taking place among families with servants, the cook is usually “Mrs. X”, an older custom which reflects her important position in the household, not her marital status. I don’t quite remember what the meaning of “Miss” was, but it also did not necessarily indicate marital status. It was later that Mrs. became reserved for married women and Miss for unmarried ones, but the married ones did not use their husbands’ first names: “Mrs. John Smith” was a 19C development when the name of a woman completely disappeared upon her marriage, subsumed under her husband’s name, as were herself and her possessions. Sometimes a woman’s name is rewritten according to prevailing custom: she cites a portrait of the wife of the playwright Sheridan, which was known under her own name (as she was too), but a recent catalogue had “Portrait of Mrs. Richard Sheridan”.

  81. Under the lid of our washing machine is written “Using your Automatic Washer” and “Utilisation do votre laveuse automatique”.

  82. marie-lucie says:

    votre laveuse automatique

    Une laveuse is a washinc machine, not a woman. In older times when washing was done by professional “washerwomen”, those women were called lavandières. (I think that English “laundry” is from Anglo-French lavanderie, a place where washing was done).

  83. Some time ago I read – and saved, but I can’t find it – a very interesting, well-researched article about the evolution of female titles in English, especially “Mrs.”.

    Are you by any chance remembering this post?

  84. marie-lucie says:

    LH, I had forgotten that post, but I thought I had read the paper quite some time ago and found it, reread it and saved it not too long ago. I am surprised that you posted only a few months ago. From my comments on that earlier post it seems that perhaps I had not read the linked article very carefully, or perhaps at all. It is well worth reading.

  85. David Marjanović says:

    Under the lid of our washing machine is written “Using your Automatic Washer” and “Utilisation d[e?] votre laveuse automatique”.

    Grammatically, all work is done by women, all the way to la photocopieuse and l’imprimante (increasingly). Thinking is done by men instead; l’ordinateur is not in danger of replacement.

  86. This is very late, and it isn’t about “got/gotten,” but since the diaeresis* question was raised, I thought I’d mention that Mary Norris, a New Yorker proofreader, wrote an amusing blog post a couple of years ago about the magazine’s quirky style:

    http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-curse-of-the-diaeresis

    * Or “dieresis,” preferred by some US dictionaries.

  87. is quickly torpedoed when you consider the vast majority of occupations for which no gender-specific terms exist

    Well, yes and no. This is not (fortunately) Imperial Russia, in which there is no way to say “female general” or “male housekeeper” because the referents don’t exist. But for a few functions, it really matters what gender the referent is, and I still claim that acting is one of them, exceptis excipiendis.

  88. It is always easy to find compelling reasons to keep things the way we’re used to; of course, once the world changes and we no longer make the old distinctions, the new way comes to seem equally compelling.

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