Got Britishisms?

I just read and enjoyed See You in September, a memoir by Darryl Pinckney. Pinckney is a Black American writer (born in Indianapolis) but for some time (at least twenty-five years, it seems), he’s lived part-time in England, with his partner, the writer James Fenton.

So he comes by his Britishisms legitimately. Indeed, the most surprising thing to me, in this regard, is that I only found two of them in the book. However, he uses both of them a lot, and they are both pretty unusual (for an American).

The first is using “got” and “forgot” as the past participle form of “get” and “forget.” So Pinckney:

  • refers to “one of [his mentor Elizabeth Hardwick’s] recommendations I’d got from the
    library though she of course had it in her shelves.”
  • writes “We’d forgot to ring for the elevator.”
  • writes “they’d got engaged.”

Literally every other American would write “forgotten,” and every American with the exception of writers for The New Yorker would write “gotten.”

As the link in the previous sentence shows, I’ve previously written about “had got.” But I’ve only one or two Americans ever using Pinckney’s other main Britishism, and had been waiting for a few more sightings before addressing it. Here are some examples from the book:

  • a reference to a novel “which I’d not read.”
  • another to “everything I’d not done.”
  • “I’d not thought of quiche as heavy.”

The standard American phrasing would be “I hadn’t read,” “I hadn’t done,” and “I hadn’t thought.” Even in Britain, apparently, this is a bit unusual. In Lynne Murphy 2007 blog post on “Have contractions,” she cites another scholar, John Algeo as having examined a corpus and found

How about it, British readers: is the “I’d not VERBed” usage as rare as all that?

23 thoughts on “Got Britishisms?

  1. I know it’s illogical but, while the past participle of “get” is “got” in British English, that for “forget” is definitely “forgotten”. Using “forgot” is either local usage or just slovenly. Of course, “got” may be used colloquially but should be avoided in formal writing, similar to your New Yorker writers.

  2. I am American but say forgot and got now. I changed about six or seven years ago because it makes more sense to me and sounds better to me. Personal ungrammatical preference. I even write them, and have got away with it so far.

    1. I use both ‘I’d not’ and ‘I hadn’t’ without ever thinking about the distinction!

      I think it’s about intention.

      “I haven’t phoned the insurance company.” Straight information.

      “I’ve not phoned the insurance company.” I meant to, but just didn’t get round to it.

      For your examples – a book ‘I’ve not read’ is one I keep meaning to read vs a book ‘I haven’t read’ is straight fact.

      Everything I’ve not done… but wanted to.

      “Not thought of quiche as heavy” is a little different. This variation means, ‘but I think you might be right’. I wonder how often it’s used on GBBO. “I’d not thought of pairing the flavours of x and y, but it really works.”

  3. I think “forgotten” is in pretty much universal usage for the past tense in the UK. Darryl Pinckney’s use of “we’d forgot” seems like lazy or misunderstood BrE.
    That “I’d not…” usage sounds very much a North of England practice to me. I only ever hear southerners say “I hadn’t…” in that context. I would be interested to know where in the UK Darryl Pinckney has settled.

      1. Thank you Ben. That same Wikipedia link states that Pinckney’s partner is James Fenton and his page says he ‘grew up in Lincolnshire and Staffordshire…’, which are both in the North of England. I therefore surmise that Darryl Pinckney’s usages are probably from James Fenton.

  4. ‘Forgot’ is a mistake on his part. It’s ‘forgotten’ in the UK. ‘I’d not’ I would say is used in England but not throughout the UK.

  5. I second all these comments. Here in Wales it’s always “forgotten” (apart from in the old Guy Fawkes-related rhyme “I see no reason why Gunpowder season should ever be forgot”) and “I hadn’t”, though I think you’ll still find “I’d not” up Yorkshire way.

  6. Like Carolyn I use both ‘I’d not’ and ‘I hadn’t’. More natural day-to-day is ‘I’d not’ (I’d not seen her for x years) – and I’ve never lived anywhere north of Leicester! But I’ve never heard e.g. ‘I’d not any’ instead of ‘I hadn’t any”, and there must be quite a few more expressions like that. Perhaps I use ‘I hadn’t’ for clarity or emphasis; I’ll need to monitor myself and have a think.

    You may already know, Ben, that some Southerners believe The North begins just north of London (sorry Nick!) – Lincs and Staffs are in the Midlands. Neighbouring county Lincolnshire begins 30 miles from my village near Northampton, which is a more southerly Midlands town.

    I’m not surprised that ‘I hadn’t’ is more common in ‘a corpus’ – we speakers of elegant English have to compromise with Southerners, Americans, and other riff-raff. Let the culture war begin.

    1. I grew up in County Durham, and despite having been born in London and now living in Guildford, I still think of Lincolnshire and Staffordshire as the deep south. 🙂

  7. Based in the south of the UK for the better part of a decade now, “I’d not” and “I’ve not” is common although you’d still hear “I haven’t” and “I hadn’t.”

  8. When I moved to Canada from the U.S. … 50 (?!?!?) years ago, a very Uppity Canadian* friend told me, when I used “gotten” that, ” ‘Gotten’ is rotten.” I’ve tended to use “got” ever since. Here it’s “forgotten,” which apparently isn’t rotten, except for the person who forgets. *Uppity Canadian – Ontario (the province in which I live) used to be known as Upper Canada. Uppity Canadians are veddy proper Upper Canadians.

  9. Where does ‘veddy’ come from, Terry? I think I’ve seen Ben use it too. Does it puzzle other Brits here, as it puzzles me?

    1. It’s what Americans (and apparently Canadians) use when pretending to speak like a snobby British person. I reckon it’s what we heard/hear when that type of character (imagine those who populate Wodehouse’s books) says “very” in a confiding or authoritative way in old movies or, perhaps, in person. “My late uncle was a veddy important figure in the Raj, you know.”

      1. Two points arise from this. Firstly, I can’t imagine why North Americans hear “veddy” as an English expression because I can’t imagine any English person ever having used such an expression, except in the following circumstance. Secondly, it has been used in the past to mimic the pronunciation of people from the Indian subcontinent and as such would be deemed to be somewhat offensive.

      2. It is interesting that it is considered somewhat offensive to mimic the pronunciation of people from the Indian subcontinent but not to (incorrectly) mimic the English.

      3. I’m sure you are right. I did not say it is that it is an expression that English people have ever used. As I said, veddy is how North Americans have– for many decades now– spelled something they hear. And the notion predates any widespread American exposure to Indian accents, so there is no historical connotation whatsoever with that. It is, as I indicated, what Americans have decided is part of a snobby British accent.

      4. Excellent point, Robert. I think it’s pretty fair to say– and others may and can disagree with me– that you are exactly right: Americans think that snobby British people (not ALL British people) speak like they have a cold.

      5. I have actually never heard a Canadian say “veddy” but I hear it on American sit-comes when people are being made fun of. I think the person who spoke about veddy proper Upper Canadians is actually American.

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