Getting it

From The Advocate of October 2009, p. 8:

“Before I wrote this story, I wasn’t a fan of The Real Housewives,” says Jason Lamphier, whose piece on Bravo executive Andy Cohen appears on page 56… “Those women crave attention and drama to the point of self-absorption, but most of us crave that too, if even just a bit. Andy Cohen knows this. He gets the camp factor, and he gets that we get the camp factor.”

The point of interest is the use of the verb get here. It’s not exactly new; OED2 has a sense ‘to understand (a person or statement)’, marked as colloquial and originally U.S., with clear cites from 1907 on, mostly in (not) get it, as in “Oh, now I get it” and “I don’t get it”.

In “He gets the camp factor” (and a great many other examples that can easily be found), the object of get denotes neither a person nor a statement (or situation), but instead an abstract property, and get itself denotes something closer to appreciation than to simple understanding. It’s a subtle extension of the older senses, and an entirely natural one. It might not be easy to determine when the meaning was extended this way.

“He gets that we get the camp factor” has a further extension, to propositional objects of get, in the form of that-complements. Again, this is a natural extension, on analogy with verbs like understand. And again, I don’t know the history of this development.

But I do know that there are two variants with that-complements, one with the plain complement, the other with an it that is sometimes labeled as pleonastic (and sometimes analyzed as involving extraposition of the that-complement). There are huge numbers of hits for both:


I mean, I get that you like the guy, but you have to admit, that was pretty strange. (link)

OK, I get that you disagree with Frank’s policies. (link)

With it:

Yes, I get it that you think that people are so retarded that they believe “death panels” means committees convened to kill people … (link)

And I get it that you might not like a few people, but why would you ever put them down or be mean? (link)

This is part of a larger pattern in English, in which a plain clausal complement  (a that-complement or a for-to-complement) alternates with it plus that complement:

I hate/love/like (it) that you can play Scrabble so well.
I hate/love/like (it) for you to play Scrabble so often.

There are more verbs involved in these patterns, and there’s an enormous amount of variation (from person to person, dialect to dialect, verb to verb, syntactic context to syntactic context, discourse context to discourse context). This variation has often been commented on in the syntactic literature, but as far as I know, the details haven’t been studied systematically. (This is one of those cases where it’s no help at all for people to volunteer their judgments on particular examples, since these judgments are often fragile and vary with small changes in the details of the examples. Only studies of actual usage will do, and those aren’t easy to carry out.)

But it’s enough for my purposes here to note that both variants are available for get ‘understand, appreciate’.

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