I’ve got a bone to pick with someone

What’s that sound I hear? Probably my dear old mum spinning in her grave.

Well OK, she was cremated so that analogy isn’t quite right, but you get my drift.

Gotten … can you believe it? GOTTEN? The past tense of get is GOT, not gotten.

It appeared in the headline of a travel story I clicked on the other day, and out of curiosity, I did a quick search on Stuff for “gotten”. Holy crap, there were dozens of them! There were 10 pages of results, and in just the first three I found 14 used incorrectly (ie: not in a direct quote or as part of the term “ill-gotten”, which is a whole different kettle of proverbial fish).

GOTTEN? Goddamit … it’s everywhere.

I started my working life as a proof-reader before I moved on to being a sub-editor, and the importance of not using weird Americanisms is something I learned early on in my working life. Even before I started my working life, in fact, thanks to the language rules hammered in to me by my aforementioned dear old mum.

And once I embarked upon the grown-up world of working, it was the legendary Jim Valli who continued to shape my respect of the English language.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the two of them help me hone my craft, and it saddens me when I see the sloppiness that is slowly but surely taking hold when it comes to the written word.

Let’s be clear, though: I don’t consider myself a “grammar Nazi”. That title, which so many others proudly claim, is just a wee bit obnoxious: I care about the language, I’m not a fascist or an arsehole about it. I might be an arsehole about other things (in fact, I’d pretty much put money on it), but not when it comes to the language.

Why?  Well, if you are an average Joe Bloggs posting on Facebook or leaving a comment on a message board or news story and you mix your tenses, misspell a word or even do something dodgy with an apostrophe, I’ll just ignore it and carry on with my day because your inability to get shit right doesn’t really have an impact on me. Well … OK, so I will probably silently judge you before moving on, but I don’t care enough to shame you online and so long as what you’ve written is actually in some sort of readable form, I’ll deal with it.

Unless, of course, you are taking the piss out of someone else for getting something wrong. In that case, you are fair game.

That all changes when it comes to those who are paid to give us accurate, correct information: publishers of all news media, and of books. If they get it wrong, I get upset. Especially when it’s the news media getting it wrong.

GOTTEN? Holy crap, yuck.

It really does hurt my feelings because it’s my chosen industry, my chosen career. I cringe every time I see a glaring error, because as the people who we want to buy our product become more and more disillusioned and complain about falling standards, every error makes it more difficult to defend.

Any-hoo, back to “gotten”.

Let’s get Oxford to clear it up, shall we?


As past participles of get, got and gotten both date back to Middle English. The form gotten is not used in British English but is very common in North American English. In North American English, got and gotten are not identical in use. Gotten usually implies the process of obtaining something, as in he had gotten us tickets for the show, while got implies the state of possession or ownership, as in I haven’t got any money.

So there you go Stuff, it’s not a word: not for normal, English-speaking New Zealand. It used to be way back in the olden days in dear old Pomgolia (ie: England), but not for century or two.

Of course, Americans use it, along with a whole bunch of other words that we also don’t use. Such as mom. And covfefe.

Ugh, gotten. I feel like I need to go wash my mouth out with soap.

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