Short shot #9: a tough get

[I’m several days into suffering from a dreadful intestinal virus, which among other things has deranged my nights. I’ve been playing KQED on the radio, to keep me company and absorb my attention. So I’ve picked up various odds and ends, from this source and some others.]

I’ll start with one from KQED’s Morning Edition this morning, where sports writer John Feinstein reflected on Rafael Nadal’s chances in the U.S. Open tennis tournament, saying “it’s a tough get”, meaning that the championship would be a tough thing for Nadal to get.

This is a zero nouning (a direct conversion) of the verb get. As with so many very frequent verbs, the nouning of get has been going on for a very long time, but not quite in this sense.Putting aside obsolete, largely dialectal, and very specialized uses, we find the following in OED2:

The action of returning the ball, esp. a difficult shot, in lawn tennis. colloq. [cites from 1927 on]

What is begotten; an offspring, child. Also collect. progeny. Now only of animals. [cites from c1320 on]

orig. Sc. and north. In contemptuous use = brat. Also spec. a bastard; hence as a general term of abuse: a fool, idiot. (Cf. GIT.) Now dial. and slang. [cites from 1508 on]

A getaway; a hasty retreat; esp. in phr. to do ( or make) a get . Cf. GET v. 31d. Austral. and N.Z. slang. [apparently a clipping; cites from 1898 on]

Meanwhile, googling on {“a tough get”} pulls up a large number in the sense ‘a tough thing/person to get’ (as in the Feinstein quote).

Nintendo Boss Calls Wii a Tough Get (link)

And a guy like Jason Marquis was a tough get because the Chicago Cubs wouldn’t give him up to a division rival, Melvin said. (link)

He [actor Seth Green] was a tough get as far as his deal and all that stuff, but he was interested in the part from day one. (link)

Should you yell about your book not being in airport bookstores? No. That kind of real estate is a tough get even for established authors. (link)

There are also hits (in the relevant sense) for “a hard get”, “an easy get”, and no doubt a number of similar examples. Some sites report a specialization to the sense ‘interview’.

Over the years, we’ve taken a lot of pride in the quality of interviews (or “gets” as they’re referred to by us media industry insiders) that we’ve been able to land on the Northern Alliance Radio Network. (link)

Although I don’t recall having experienced the nouning get before — though it would be easy to overlook — but now it seems it’s all around us, in colloquial speech and writing.

9 Responses to “Short shot #9: a tough get”

  1. SDT Says:

    I hear tennis players say “good get” (in the 1927 sense) all the time but don’t remember hearing “get” as a noun anywhere else. Because the subject of the NRP story was tennis, “tough get” sounds to me like an extension of the established tennis usage.

  2. The Ridger Says:

    I’m very familiar with it in the animal husbandry sense, but I’m pretty sure the new sense is something I’ve heard before.

  3. SDT Says:

    I found an earlier earlier example of “good get” than the OED example for lawn tennis, this one from a 1919 NY Times article about “court tennis” (which seems to be like squash or racketball):

    “But after a good get and placement, he stopped a terrific drive in spectacular style for the vantage point, taking the game with another amazing shot, which dropped dead off the tambour.”

    New York Times. December 3, 1919, Wednesday, Page 16 (on line pdf).

    I assume “vantage point” means “advantage,” the point after deuce. According to, “tambour” has this definition: “Court Tennis. a sloping buttress opposite the penthouse, on the hazard side of the court.” I have no idea what that means.

  4. SDT Says:

    Oh, I should have mentioned that the title of the newspaper article is “Jay Gould Captures Four Sets in Court Tennis Title Match with Kinsella.”

  5. Fritinancy Says:

    The New York Times “T” magazines (fashion, travel, design), which recently celebrated their fifth anniversary, include a regular feature called “The Get.” According to a press release introducing T: Travel, “The Get” is “a guide to everything beautiful from the best catalogs to the latest shops and boutiques” — in other words, a guide to what to get:

    Hope you feel better soon!

  6. danny bloom Says:

    The “get” I have seen most often in the newspapers and heard on TV is about “getting an important interview” with someone famous or newsworthy, like Tom Cruise, etc, and you as a reporter can “get” him to sit down with you for a “sit down”, your colleagues call that a good ‘get”. It’s a TV interview newsroom term, no?

  7. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Danny Bloom: you have only to look at the range of examples I gave, or at others you could google up, to see that there are plenty of occurrences of the noun get that are not specifically about getting interviews — though I noted in my posting that the noun did have a specialized use in the interview context.

    So it’s a TV interview newsroom term, yes, but it’s also a lot of other things.

  8. Mike Graser Says:

    In volleyball, a tough get was when you are able to “play” (or not play) a tough shot from the other team…”Wow, that was a tough get!” (success); “Ooh, that was a tough get.” (failure).

  9. Postings on nounings « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] AZBlog, 8/31/09: A tough get (link) […]

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