Several UK readers have wondered about the use of the word ‘gotten’ in my medieval mysteries. Since the word is not in common usage in England right now, it seems odd to them to read it at all, and a glaring ‘Americanism’ in a book set in the medieval period. At first glance, this might appear to be yet another instance of ‘two countries separated by a common language,’ but as it turns out, the history of the word ‘gotten’ is a lot more interesting than that.
‘Gotten’ is, in fact, an ancient English word that was in use in England at the time America was colonized by the English. Over the centuries, the Americans kept on using it and the English did not.
Origin: 1150-1200(v.) Middle English geten < Old Norse geta to obtain, beget; cognate with Old English –gietan (> Middle English yeten), German-gessen, in vergessen to forget; (noun) Middle English: something gotten, offspring, derivative of the v. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gotten
‘Got’ is used in Welsh–or at least as much of it as I have so far managed to learn. ‘I have got’ (mae gen i) is a common phrase in modern Welsh and even has its own system of conjugation (you have got, he has got). Of course, my medieval characters aren’t speaking English anyway, so whether they might have used ‘gotten’ as well as ‘got’, like their English counterparts, is something I don’t know! However, if my medieval characters were speaking English (which they generally are not), they would have used, ‘gotten’!
And for those who continue to be skeptical, perhaps a few quotes from Francis Bacon (written 1601) will suffice:
“And because it works better, when anything seemeth to be gotten from you by question, than if you offer it of yourself, you may lay a bait for a question, by showing another visage, and countenance, than you are wont; to the end to give occasion, for the party to ask, what the matter is of the change? As Nehemias did; And I had not before that time, been sad before the king.” ‘Of Cunning’
“Meaning that riches gotten by good means, and just labor, pace slowly … Riches gotten by service, though it be of the best rise, yet when they are gotten by flattery, feeding humors, and other servile conditions, they may be placed amongst the worst.” ‘Of Riches’ http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/bacon/bacon_essays.html
Released on 8 February 2015, The Lost Brother is the sixth Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mystery. This series of novels is set in medieval Wales during the twelfth century and follows the adventures of Gareth and Gwen, two sleuths in the court of Owain Gwynedd, King of North Wales. The characters in the series only use the word ‘gotten’ when they couldn’t possibly say anything else.
Sarah Woodbury, February 9, 2015