Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Got Zeugma?

Posted by Neal on November 10, 2012

In this 2008 post, I pulled together several examples of zeugma involving the word make, and these involving the word get. Some of the get examples involved two somewhat similar meanings of get: the intransitive meaning of “become”, and the transitive meaning of “cause to become”:

  • …after you’ve gotten dressed, your bed made, and your teeth brushed.
  • [The karate lessons] make it tough for him to get his things done and to bed on time.

Others involved the “become” meaning with the more-distantly related meaning of “acquire”:

    A 17-year-old gets arrested and a $1,000 bond for failing to show at a court appearance for … a seatbelt violation.
  • These days there’s dudes gettin’ facials, manicured, waxed, and botoxed.
    (“I’m Still a Guy,” by John Kelley Lovelace, Lee Thomas Miller, and Brad Douglas Paisley)

Now, four years later, the latest addition to the “become/acquire” get-zeugma collection comes from Ben Zimmer, who sent me this:

What conservative Washington Post readers got, when they traded in Dave Weigel for Rubin, was a lot more hackery and a lot less informed about the presidential election. (link)

What’s especially nice about this example is that it’s not just a straightforward coordination of complements after the verb get. Oh no. This time the get is spotlighted in a so-called pseudo-cleft construction. It’s too complicated to give a formal definition of a pseudocleft here, but a few examples should give you the idea:

    Pseudo-clefts

  • What I want is money.
  • What it was was football.
  • Where I live is Ohio.

You can also read about pseudo-clefts in a wider context in this post. Anyway, this pseudo-cleft construction heightens the weirdness of the zeugma, because it’s weird already to do pseudo-clefts with predicate adjectives. In other words, even if we just had “become” get, it would sound odd in a pseudo-cleft:

What they got was a lot less-informed.

Actually, predicative adjectives sound weird in any kind of cleft construction, not just pseudo-clefts, and not just with the verb get. Here’s one done for (I assume) deliberate effect, in an all-cleft from the song “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”:

And when he died, all that he left us was alone.

And another in an it-cleft:

It was less-informed that they got.

And now, it’s to bed and a good night’s rest that I need to get!

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3 Responses to “Got Zeugma?”

  1. Gotcha! Now what I got to get is goin’, while the gettin’ is good.

  2. Ben Zimmer said

    I always figured that the “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” lyric was written that way to create a double reading: “And when he died, all he left us was alone/a loan.”

  3. EP said

    It’s the word zeugma that really gets me. At first I thought it was a medical condition. Then I figured it must have been some German that had gone selbstständig and gotten out of control. So then I actually read up on it and learned all about prozeugma, mesozeugma and hypozeugma, too. Now I’m more confused than ever.

    No but seriously, interesting post.

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