Arnold Zwicky at the Log has noticed something that I desperately want to be a common typo but that I’m afraid he may be correct in thinking a new construction a-borning:

Yesterday on ADS-L, Doug Harris noted a surprise (boldfaced below) in a piece by TVNewser columnist Gail Shister: […] [Emily Rooney said] “What’s she waiting for? Will it getter better after the election? After the inauguration? Of course not.” […] Was this just an inadvertent slip, with the -er of the comparative better anticipated on the preceding verb get (perhaps facilitated by the rhyme of get and bet-)? Almost surely not; Harris got 21,300 raw webhits for {“getter better”}, and even granting that there are many duplicates and that some might be slips, there are still many examples remaining that look like people are saying and writing just what they intend to. It looks like a new idiom — new to me and possibly to the usage literature, and possibly recent.

He gives enough examples to convince me it’s probably more than just a frequent slip of the typing fingers; there is even “Are animals getter more and more inteligent [sic]?” where there is no question of an anticipation of a later -er. Mind you, I don’t dislike this because it’s “wrong” (I think we all know where I stand on artificial correctness), but because it doesn’t sound to me like something a native speaker of English could conceivably say, which means my ear for English is aging out of service even faster than I had feared.
Anyway, I thought I’d turn to the assembled multitudes: have you ever run across this use of “getter”? Have you used it yourself (or can you imagine using it)?


  1. Never seen it, would never use it. And in fact would mock anyone who did use it with any expectation of being taken seriously, and think less well of her, even if (as I quieted the mockery) for reasons of prudence I protested otherwise.

  2. I’m going to start using it. I’ve missed out on lots of trends before, and it sure feels good to get in on the ground floor of a new one. Thanks dawg (“dawg” — I was late on that one.) Fer shizzle my nizzle, but things are sure getter better. Wird.

  3. I would actually attack such a person physically.

  4. mollymooly says

    If there is some nuance of difference between “getter better” and “get better”, I have no idea what that might be. If it’s just a fad, then James Ashley’s approach may be the most effective way to kill it off.

  5. Interestingly, I had a problem with understanding a similar construction a few years ago. It was “get ‘er better” or something similar (I just searched for this on Google and received very few hits, so I’m not sure I’m spelling it the way I saw it.)
    In any case, it was used in the exact same manner as described in the post. It was explained to me that this meant something along the lines of “will it be made better,” and chalked up as nothing more than a folksy way of stating this. (I’m not a native speaker, so these things sometimes aren’t as obvious to me from context as they might be for others.)
    I haven’t seen it since, but in the limited context of the quote provided, perhaps this is what this means, with the “get ‘er” being replaced by the more opaque “getter.”
    After working very hard to learn English, I’m a little sensitive about people who are so sloppy with it, especially those I assume to be native speakers. So while I understand the organic sorts of ways in which a language can and does change, I am with jamessal, and would have to fight an inclination towards violence against such a person.

  6. I guess we’re becomer dumber.

  7. I at least think it’s neat. It seems like the inflectional ending -er is taking the place of the required inflectional ending, whether it’s -ing or -s – except that it shows up in apparently uninflected cases like “to getter better”. Maybe that’s support for ‘null endings’?
    And Dee, I’d say it’s precisely the native speakers who are likely to have these quirks – not because they’re being sloppy, but because they grew up speaking, in effect, a language other than the standard English that second language learners are taught.
    Or, pace a few o’th’above, it might be because of their black, black, rotten little souls.

  8. Yeah, just to be clear, I was totally joking. And I’m not crazy about the “dawg/wird” sneering myself.

  9. Never seen it, never thought of using it.
    I’m not a native speaker, and I suck at puns, but I rather like playing around with words. In particular I’m fond of using simple comparatives where I know they’re wrong (this it a matter of how I communicate by IM, though – not how I speak. I have enough trouble learing the right pronunciations as it is. Tin ear).
    Thus ‘wrong’, ‘beautifuller’, ‘cleverer’ &c. I’m pretty sure I’ve used it in ‘wooter’ too (or ‘w00ter’ if you prefer).

  10. I have never heard this nor seen it, and I have had to listen to a lot of young text-generation folks at work. Seems weird, and excessive.

  11. Ooooh – I like that ‘Get (h)er better’. I can see that being used in a dialect that’s retained some gender. Or just uses ‘her’ for certain objects – ships being the most obvious examples.
    Might this not have enforced the anticipatory ‘getter’ for some?

  12. As an aside, “to getter” is used in vacuum systems engineering. One way to pump the last bit of gas out of an ultra-high-vacuum chamber is to insert a strip of barium or cesium or something; many gases will react with the metal to form a solid hydride. The reactive strip is called the getter, and what it does is not “to get” but “to getter”.
    Anyway, you can say that the getterable gases got gettered by the getter, and that depending on the operating temperature, zirconium-cobalt would getter better than zirconium-vanadium. And no one would bat an eye.

  13. Never ever. And the thought of it becoming common usage is really depressing.

  14. Am I the only one here who thought of git-r-done when reading “getter better”?
    Am I?
    OK, I’ll go hide somewhere, feeling ashamed of myself.

  15. Looks to me like a simple case of scrambled neural processing. I see this more and more in myself with the elapsing of the years. Repetition of words (dittography); omission of words (lipography); substitution of a homophone or near-homophone for the intended word (good for could); substitution of a common apostrophed form for a correct unapostrophed form (he let’s go for he lets go); and yes: duplication of inflections from neighbouring words (recently, slowing returning instead of slowly returning). We must greet these things stoically, accepting them squarely but with good grace and doing what we reasonably can (no more!) to correct them. We draw comfort from the competence–performance distinction.

  16. Speaking of “get better”, there is another aspect of “get better” that seems almost as illogical as “getter better”. But first I’d like to check whether my particular usage of “better” is standard, dialectal, or purely idiosyncratic.
    From the point of view of normal English grammar, “to get better” should mean to show some improvement in health. That is, if you are seriously ill today, “getting better” should mean that you feel less seriously ill the next day.
    The problem is, I’ve been brought up to use “get better” as a synonym of “get well”. So if you tell someone “I’m better now”, it means that you’ve fully recovered. This must be distinguished from “I’m feeling better now”, which means that there is an improvement in your condition, even if you are not completely “better” (i.e. recovered).
    I’ve always found this to be a rather illogical usage that is hard to explain to non-native speakers, who naturally interpret “Are you better now?” as an invitation to say “Thanks, I’m still pretty sick but I’m much better than yesterday”.
    Do other people use English this way, or is it just me?

  17. Well Bathrobe, why should such a comparative form not be used “absolutely”? Superlative forms can be. Consider My sin, my sin, my most grievous sin, from the mass: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. In neither English nor Latin are we supposed to think of a literal superlative. So with the comparative.
    As for my slowing returning, I see that a Google search gets 921 hits! And that’s just one very particular inflectional duplication. I am confirmed in my opinion that getter better has the same aetiology, and so far find no reason to think that it has risen to any sort of broad acceptability. Unlike, say, as far as X instead of as far as X is concerned.

  18. nope. can’t imagine saying it, except as a mistake, and I would look askance at anyone that used it seriously.
    I’m only worried that by Mr. Zwicky bringing it up, and the continued attention it is receiving here, it will somehow stick…
    :¬ )

  19. I should have googled first. I googled the expression “completely get better”, and got 987 results. A quick look at the results shows clearly that “better” can mean “recovered” in English.
    For example, “Did your shoulder problem completely get better, or do you still have shoulder problems?”
    So while I feel that my linguistic intuition was justified, the usage still seems quite strange from a purely logical point of view.

  20. No need to hide, Bulbul. I thought of Larry the Cable Guy when I saw Dee’s comment. I had no idea it was spelled that way, though. I assumed it was “Git ‘er done!”, and it’s plenty annoying that way.
    Bathrobe, for me, “I’m better now” can mean either full recovery or simply improvement. One famous example of the “full recovery” meaning is in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

    Bedevere: What makes you think that she is a witch?
    Peasant 3: What? She turned me into a newt. [Bedevere gives him a disbelieving look]
    Bedevere: A newt?
    Peasant 3: [a very long pause] I got better.

  21. Jonathan Lecun says

    I’ve never heard this before and I agree with earlier comments that this looks like a slip rather than an encroaching new form.
    If you search for “should of” online you’ll get plenty of results but I don’t think it means it is becoming a regularised form; rather it suggests our brains are wired in similar ways and many people make the same mistake.
    “It’s getter better all the time”.

  22. I hate to see them do a half assed job about it.
    Seriously, Steve, don’t you think it’s time you stopped fucking around and learned a little something language? Maybe if you didn’t waste all your time on the internets…

  23. (I have moved Hannah’s comment, from which jamessal is quoting, to the thread for which she intended it. And Hannah, while I appreciate your passion for Arabic and its history, insulting people is not a good way to get them to pay attention to you.)

  24. SnowLeopard says

    Between the barbarisms I make up myself and those generated by society at large, it looks like my children will be studying English as a second language….

  25. You know, I started off thinking it’s a typo. I couldn’t see how Zwicky could conclude, solely on the basis of “21,300 raw webhits for {‘getter better’}” that it’s intentional usage.
    You can get a ton of “raw webhits” for just about any typo or Freudian slip. For example:
    “get beter” — 22,200
    “getting beter” — 9,810
    “geting worse” — 11,100
    But I’m persuaded by the further examples in the LL thread. If people are out there using “getter much better” and “getter significantly better,” it’s turning into an idiom.
    If it’s intentional, we should expect “getter worse” to be right behind. And indeed:
    “getter worse” — 674
    (I like particularly the 4th result: “I have pain in the tailbone and its getter worse.”
    Further support for the idiom argument comes from Google Groups, where you can track spontaneous usage by date — “getter better” is common through the 1990s; “getter worse” starts to show up about 2000. If both were unconscious typos, you’d think they’d appear at about the same time.

  26. Jamessal:
    Behave yourself.
    If people are out there using “getter much better” and “getter significantly better,” it’s turning into an idiom.
    Not necessarily. For a start, Google counts must always be interpreted with great caution. And then, we don’t know the processes of internal or external editing people are going through to arrive at what we find online.
    There are alternative hypotheses for the situation of getter worse and getter better. You say:
    If it’s intentional, we should expect “getter worse” to be right behind.
    Perhaps. But we should have the same expectation on another hypothesis: that people are working internally with competing formulations, and getting things scrambled in the output. Better might well be latently present as one is planning to write worse, and could blend with the getting that one is writing, to yield getter.
    There are so many factors likely to be at play. I have just now done a Google survey of getting worse, getting better, getter worse, and getter better, each preceded by it’s, I’m, he’s, and are. The proportions among the counts fluctuate unexpectedly.
    Next, Martin, what do you make of my own anecdotal case? Someone pointed out to me that I had written slowing returning, which I clearly do not think is right, and lo: 927 (latest count) have done the same, according to Google! What is the best explanation in their case? Should we think it’s radically different from my own, and therefore different from the parallel “neurological” explanation of getter better? Consider these raw Google counts, and associated percentages:
    getting better:
    getter better:
    21,500 [= 0.154% of 14,000,000]
    slowly returning:
    slowing returning:
    927 [= 0.697% of 133,000]
    Goure figure. If the evidence so far is that getter better is more than a mere slip, surely there is much more compelling evidence that slowing returning is also more than a mere slip. Do you therefore argue that it too is becoming an idiom?
    Finally, it is quite likely that the number and demographic composition of contributors to texts on the web changed in the course of the 1990s, so we should be very careful when comparing counts for the 1990s with counts for 2000. What’s more, the very same contributors might have become more prone to simple slips. Quite likely, when you think of the increasing volume of their contributions, and the increasing speed of exchanges on the web.

  27. In response to the point raised by bathrobe: there’s an episode of the comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm that turns on just this ambiguity between the comparative and absolute senses of ‘better’. As I remember it, Larry offers some quack several thousand dollars if he can cure him of his back pain. When Larry says he is ‘better’ – meaning improved – the quack takes it to mean that he is cured and demands payment in full.
    Hilarity ensues.

  28. Noetica:
    Who knows, “slowing returning” could be on the same path.
    As you can see, I teetered between opinions on this.
    Certainly, the evidence for “getter better” is not yet conclusive. I do think when you hang around and explore it for a while, it starts to make some sense, that is, “getter” starts to sound like an actual verb (and actually is, as pointed out by Ben M). There’s fetter, matter, utter … getter.
    It reminds me of my sister, who as a small child, trying to locate a family member in the house, would yell, “[name of person], where are you aring?” After a while, it made sense. We still use it in our family. Nobody has used it on the Internet, until now. Let’s see what happens.

  29. OK, I take it back. Not a new meme.
    I looked more closely at Google Groups, where about 6% of all the Google instances of “getter better” occur. Sorted them by date and looked at 25 or so posted in the last 12 months. Clicked through, in each case, to the poster’s profile, where you can then search all of that author’s posts. In no instance did anyone use “getter better” more than once (and some of these folks have hundreds of posts).
    So if there are no habitual “getters” out there, it’s more likely that every instance is a typo rather than an idiom-in-the-making.

  30. Well done, Martin! There are many subtleties to be negotiated in these Google assays, to which we might both be more attentive if the matter were truly hard to determine. I do like your last move! We have the same general approach.
    I remain entirely unmoved: I see no good evidence for new idioms, here or in the Zwicky material. Further investigations could continue in the veins you, I, and others have already broached. But new verbs should be added. ”Grow” is useful and interesting. Just quickly:
    grow old 4,130,000
    growing old 2,020,000
    grow older 1,690,000
    growing older 969,000
    grew old 200,000
    grower older 299
    grower old 238
    growing olding 1 genuine case
    grow olding 0
    It would be interesting to analyse these, comparing individuals’ usages.
    Last of all, I offer these Googlefinds:
    Lifes slowing getter better than this time a year ago.
    yeah, im feelin a wee bit better, i got worse on friday afternoon and saturday mornin’ but now im slowing getter better…
    And I thought I has problemed.

  31. Well, just to round out the possibilities, googling on getting betting:
    Things ARE getting betting in Iraq… …or maybe things are just going down the toilet in Pakistan.
    Getting betting reception with my sw radio?
    two out of the first four hits! A lot involve the verb ‘bet’, but there are still some with the -ing jumping to ‘better’!
    and re the rather impressive slowing getter better, it doesn’t look to me like ‘-ly’ shows up anywhere it’s not supposed to. The consonant cluster that results from sticking it at the end of the wrong word is probably too attention-getting a sound to last.

  32. I have *made that typo*–trying to type “getting better,” and having it come out “getter better.”
    The double t’s, and the little synapse-sets that really fast touch typists use, and the fact that when composing at the keyboard, I’m at least a word or two beyond my fingers..
    I’m not ready to accept this as a deliberate word choice yet. I’ll have to go read Mr. Zwicky’s examples. But I’m starting out VERY skeptical.

  33. “I don’t dislike this because it’s ‘wrong’, but because it doesn’t sound to me like something a native speaker of English could conceivably say…”
    I agree completely with you here. I rather suspect it’s an error/typo of the alliterative “kindler gentler” variety.

  34. David Waugh says

    Did you notice “becomer better” as well? The new morpheme is starting to spread. Google “becomer” and you get quite a few hits. Weird. Is this how new inflectional systems get going?

  35. Laura Brown says

    I haven’t heard “getter better” here in London, and would probably assume anyone who said it was drunk.
    The other day I did, however, hear a twentysomething guy at work say that he wanted to “boarden” (sic) his horizons. He said it, like, five times too. I’m not sure what to make of that.

  36. It all reminds me of the Pragger-Wagger putting his spoiled paper in the wagger-pagger-bagger (non-rhotically, of course).

  37. David Marjanović says

    The other day I did, however, hear a twentysomething guy at work say that he wanted to “boarden” (sic) his horizons. He said it, like, five times too. I’m not sure what to make of that.

    Either he only knows the phrase from reading and has either misread it or fallen for a typo. Or he was actually saying neither “broaden” nor “boarden”, but [r] and [o] at the same time…

  38. It might have been a hyperrhotic broarden.

  39. David Marjanović says

    Good point.

  40. Having reread this thread (thanks, Random Link!), I’m guessing the hits on “getter better” represent a combination of typos and the “get ‘er better” construction Dee mentioned; too bad there’s no way to even begin estimating the relative frequency.

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