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:


  • 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!

4 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.

  4. ethanbundy said

    Reblogged this on my broken id.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: