It was just after Montgomery’s and Elisa’s discussion of get-go and gecko that things almost came to blows.
Not between Elisa and Montgomery, to be sure; rather, the issue was with a prospective member who had joined us at the restaurant, a rather self-important specimen named Will Knott. He caught the end of the discussion on get-go and commented, to no one in particular, “I had thought that this was a society for people who valued the English language and knew how to use it well.”
“It is for people who love the language and wish to handle its words as fine ingredients in excellent dishes,” Montgomery said.
“So how did this one become a member?” he said, jerking his thumb at Elisa. “That’s not very good English. Get-go.” Elisa looked hurt and focused her attention on her wine glass and its emptying and refilling.
“You need to be sensitive to context,” I said, my hair starting to stand up on the back of my neck. “I’m not quite sure you got it. It was a colloquial recounting.”
He waved me off with his hand before I was done speaking and turned to Montgomery. “I suppose everyone enjoys a bit of slumming now and then, but I certainly wouldn’t allow such common – almost vulgar – words in my workplace. I handle important documents.”
Montgomery’s left eyebrow was arching ever so slightly higher and higher. “Vulgar?”
“Get. Got. That’s not good English.”
“Get is not good English?!” I exclaimed, almost disbelieving (I say “almost” because I have once or twice heard of others having the same view).
Will Knott sighed slightly and looked upwards for a moment. Then he continued speaking to Montgomery. “It’s a bit discouraging that you have members who are surprised to hear this.”
“Perhaps,” Montgomery said, “it’s that they wonder at your placing yourself above Shakespeare, Pope, Dickens, Thackeray, Emerson…”
“Shakespeare had terrible grammar,” Will Knott said. “Everyone knows that. Many supposedly great authors were sloppy with their usage.”
“You don’t like ‘Get thee to a nunnery’?”
“He was just trying to fit his meter. He could have said ‘Take thou holy orders’ or ‘Enter the novitiate’ or any of several better options. It doesn’t even make sense as it is. Get means ‘receive’. Receive thee to a nunnery?”
“Get has a rather broader range of use than that,” Montgomery said.
“I’m talking about the proper definition,” Will said.
“I thought you said it wasn’t a proper word,” I said. Will made an eye roll worthy of a fourteen-year-old girl and returned to ignoring me.
“The Germanic root it comes from,” Montgomery said, “is one referring to seizing, taking hold of, grasping, obtaining, and such like. The word get has, of course, been in the English language as long as there has been an English language to be in.”
“A weak defence,” Will said. “There are always better words, just as with many other old Anglo-Saxon words. I hope you grasp my meaning. Not get, grasp.”
“I don’t know that you can always get away with such substitutions,” Montgomery said.
“Would you use that sentence in a government report?” said Will. “It would be better as ‘Such substitutions may not always be allowed.’ Or, to avoid the passive, ‘You may not always succeed in making such substitutions.’”
“They don’t mean the same thing,” I said.
“Could you be quiet?” Will said. “The adults are speaking.”
“Get over yourself,” I said.
He gave me a condescending look over the tops of his glasses. “Be less impressed with yourself.”
“You might want to try to get along with others,” Montgomery said.
“Agree is a better word than get along with,” Will replied.
Elisa broke her silence. “Even I know that those don’t mean the same thing.”
“You do not know all the meanings of the word agree,” Will said.
“You don’t know all the meanings of the word get,” I said. “And you get your back up too readily.”
“I am too readily irritated, you mean,” he said. “However, it seems to me that you are the one with a temper here.”
Montgomery gestured towards me and Elisa. “It is from members such as these that you must get permission to get into the Order of Logogustation.”
“Obtain permission,” Will said. “Obtain is a much better word. And join or enter, not get into.”
“You truly feel that this is the way to get ahead?”
“To advance, I believe you mean?”
Montgomery paused and glanced at his watch. “Well, it’s getting on.”
“The hour is advancing,” Will corrected him.
“Let’s get this over with,” Montgomery said, glancing at me.
“Draw it to a conclusion,” Will said.
“Get up,” Montgomery said.
“Arise,” Will said.
“And get out,” Montgomery said.
“Leave, exit, depart,” Will said.
“I mean you,” Montgomery said. “Do you get it now?”
“Understand it, you mean,” Will said.
“We mean get out,” I said, positioning myself behind him with two of the waiters, whom I had signalled to come over. “You will never get in. You need to get a clue.”
“The door is this way, sir,” said one of the waiters. “Don’t make us exert ourselves.”
Will Knott looked at us distastefully and drew himself up to standing. He looked for moment more and made a bee-line for the door, muttering “Disappointing!” loudly enough for all to hear.
“You ignorant git,” I said after him as he left, exited, departed.