get-there-ativeness

This is a word with a lot of get-up-and-go, but all of it has gotten up and gone. Behold a word that is simultaneously an annoyingly clumsy and cute new confection and so old and out of use that even the obelisk declaring its obsoleteness has a layer of dust on it. Thank heavens for historical dictionaries such as my perennial friend the Oxford English Dictionary, which still let me get there to it.

This word does come from the American word mill, the factory of showy English that once put out long cruising sedan words with tailfins and now hews often to conversions, borrowings, and acronyms. The first citation for the word comes from the Bismarck Tribune, that leading newspaper of the Dakota Territory, in 1883: “It was a south Dakota paper that said: ‘For get-there-ativeness, Bismarck takes the cake’.” The last citation comes from the Commercial Car Journal in 1921: “The difference between the purely static state of mind and the one bristling with dynamic energy and ‘get-there-itiveness’.” (Note the variant spelling.)

So what is get-there-ativeness? Simply put, it’s get-up-and-go (a term slightly older than get-there-ativeness – first citation 1871 – and yet still alive while the other is not so much). This word has in the past century suffered from forget-there-it-is-ness, but you could still use it. Indeed, it looks to be not so much a mere synonym of get-up-and-go as its ideal travelling companion: first you get up and go, and then you get there. A third companion on the journey is stick-to-it-iveness, first seen in 1859 and still sticking to it. It’s one thing to be able to start, another to be able to stick to it, but yet another to be able to finish what you’ve started.

Perhaps that’s why we still have the other two terms and not this one – get-up-and-go isn’t done yet, and stick-to-it-iveness is still sticking to it, but get-there-ativeness got to its finish line. Well, I want to keep a jar of it around still. And I have a few books I’ll open it up and drop some on.

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