Should you be using gotten?

Over the last few years Australians have become more tolerant of the use of gotten. Gotten as the past participle of get, instead of got, is a direct borrow from American English.

I am not so sure why after decades of exposure to Hollywood films and American sitcoms we have finally succumbed to gotten. A few years ago to use it was a sign of ignorance. Now it is used by journalists on mainstream media, including the ABC who seem to be immune to the general feeling.

I am not sure how to react. On one hand I do find it mildly annoying that we using a blatant Americanism but on the other I am pleased that gotten has been revived in non-American English.

The US shares a similar language history to Australia. Many of the peculiarities of American and Australian usage are the result of dialect or mainstream words from colonial times surviving in the colonies but becoming archaic in England.

Gotten is one such word from the US (another good example is fall instead of autumn). In the UK it  dropped out of use except where fossilised in compounds and phrases such as ill-gotten. In Australia a parallel is the much loved, dinkum, as in fair dinkum, which came out on the convict boats from an English village in Lincolnshire. It now is a very rare word indeed in England.

Gotten dates back to Middle English. It was used by Shakespeare (Modern English) although not that often (I could only find it used five times). One example from Henry VI, Part III [Act IV, 7]:

Come on, brave soldiers: doubt not of the day,

And, that once gotten, doubt not of large pay.

I suspect that he used it to get the extra syllable for his iambic pentameter.

But even when using it in Australia there are traps. In North American English, got and gotten are not used identically. Gotten is usually used if there is a process of obtaining something. For instance, as in he had gotten flowers for his girlfriend while got is used for current ownership, as in I haven’t got any money.

So if you are contemplating using gotten in a sentence make sure you don’t use it a way that even the Americans would shun.