Etymology Usage

Let’s get it on

Q: When I tell my wife that I’m going to “get a shower,” she corrects me and says it should be “take a shower.” Who’s correct and why?

A: We’re on your side. “Get” is one of the most versatile verbs in English, and it’s always adapting itself to new usages well beyond its original meaning—to acquire or obtain possession of.

Particularly in colloquial (that is, spoken) or informal usage, “get” is widely used. It wouldn’t be unusual to hear someone say, “I don’t get out much, but today I think I’ll get a nap, get a shower, then get a bite to eat.”

In many common phrases, the verb “get” has something immaterial as its object, as in “get the better of,” “get the worst of it,” “get religion,” “get a cold,” “get the upper hand,” and “get a lift,” all of which are several hundred years old.

More recent examples from the OED include “get your dinner,” “get there” (that is, attain one’s object), “get wind of,” “what gets (annoys) me,” “get about,” “get back at” (retaliate), “get your own way,” and “get a shave,” all of which were first recorded in writing in the 19th century.

It seems to us that there’s little semantic difference between “get a shave” and “get a shower.” And the latter expression is hardly unusual, since “get a shower” gets about 2.7 million hits on Google (though the more common “take a shower” gets 63.4 million).

These days, new usages of “get” come along so swiftly that the Oxford English Dictionary is always adding new ones in online draft additions.

The relative newcomers are too numerous to mention, but they include “get by” (to manage), “get across” (make understood), “get lost” (go away), “get moving” (hurry up), “get it” (see a joke), “get with it,” “get it on,” “get with the program,” “get over yourself,” “get real,” “get off on,” “get a life,” and “how [fill in the blank] can you get?”

In the grand scheme of things, a marital difference over “get a shower” versus “take a shower” is small potatoes. May all your arguments be trifles! As Marvin Gaye put it, “Ah, baby, let’s get it on.”

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