SIR: In school we were taught to use "You have," not "You've got," and it rankles me every time I hear the latter. Am I right? - Lillian M.
SIR: It bothers me to hear "have got" and "has got" used on radio and television. Is that correct usage? - Shirley W.SIR: How many, many times I hear people, especially on television, say "I have got" or "They have got." Is it ever correct to use "have" and "got" together? - Doris R.
ANSER: Yes, it is. Judging from the mail, "have got" is one of the most widely deplored combinations in the language - but it's a bum rap.
At worst, it's good colloquial English, if, perhaps, a little redundant. Its longtime usage by good writers has been commented on by H.W. Fowler, among others. And Bergen Evans has noted that "have got" has been used by major writers for more than 400 years.
Some caution should be observed, of course. Sparing use is desirable because many "have gots" can grow tiresome. And in speech it's best to elide the "have" - "I've got" is more acceptable than "I have got."
But "have got" is firmly established and acceptable, especially in speech, and it often provides needed emphasis.
So, let's try to be more friendly to "have got." In fact, if we want any peace, we've got to.
SIR: I heard a network television announcer say a defeated political candidate had "conceded" that he would have preferred to win. Also, I often read that someone "admitted" something that bore no stigma or blame whatever. Please tell me that "said" is not out of date. - Helen M.
ANSWER: Of course not. Both "admit" and "concede" imply reluctance in acknowledging a claim, a demand or a point of view under pressure. Anyone who uses them when "said" would be better is probably just trying to fancy-up his language. If he has any gumption, he'll admit that he's wrong and concede that he ought to do better.
SIR: I know a girl who is pretty. I know a girl who is pretty ugly. Please explain "pretty." Is it an adjective, or what? - Murray T.
ANSWER: In your first sentence, "pretty" is an adjective meaning pleasing to the eye. In your second, "pretty" is an adverb meaning moderately. As you no doubt know, that second girl is sort of ugly.
No one should object to "pretty ugly," which is not a contradiction in terms and is acceptable in all but formal writing. After all, "pretty" can also mean tricky or cunning or deceitful. That's pretty good for just one word, isn't it?
DUBIOUS CLAIM of the week, heard on radio and reported by Charles L.:
"Our gumbo is repudiated to be some of the best gumbo in the world."
Send questions, comments, and good and bad examples to Lydel Sims, Watch Your Language, P.O. Box 161280, Memphis, TN 38186. If you quote a book, please give author, title and page number. Sorry, but questions can be answered only through this column.
- Lydel Sims of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis writes this column weekly.