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I was driving today, and I saw this billboard:

The tax man cometh. Geteth the health insurance.

Is this spelling correct? I'm not used to -eth, so I am not sure. Should it be "getteth"?

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5 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

If we are looking for historical correctness, then this phrase isn't even correct, because "get the health insurance" is an imperative sentence and the imperative form of get was get in Early Modern English. So the accurate sentence would be "get the health insurance".

However, if you want to know whether the form for the 3rd person singular is geteth or getteth, then we run into another problem; spelling was not completely standardized when these suffixes were used, so there is probably record of both used. However, one of the major standards-setters in the English language was the King James version of the Bible, published in 1611. In my corpus of the King James bible, the spelling getteth is used 9 times, and forgetteth is used 4 times. No single-t spelling is used. Further, in the 2nd person singular forms, we see begettest (2x) and forgettest (2x), and no single-t versions.

So, this might be the closest thing to an authoritative answer to how this word should be spelled.

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+1 for giving me my first-ever chance on ELU to upvote a "pedantic" answer! I really get ticked off by people (even in jest) emulating medieval forms so badly! –  FumbleFingers Sep 9 '11 at 0:28
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It is unlikely that the person who wrote this was aware of the existence of an actual word "get(t)eth". I certainly wasn't. The first half of the phrase is a play on "The Iceman Cometh", a play by Eugene O'Neill. I suspect the second is purely intended humourously.

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"The tax man cometh" is a common phrase, generally used to refer to the inevitably of taxes. I've heard that it was originally a play on words of the O'Neill play, though I haven't done the research to prove that. –  Jay Mar 5 '12 at 15:52
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It seems you're correct. Wiktionary gives getteth as an archaic third-person singular present simple form of get. But Google NGrams show, that geteth did have a bit of usage in early 19-th century. The difference is overwhelming though, so I'd say there was a typo on the billboard you saw.

enter image description here

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The spelling may be OK, but as others have said, the grammar isn't. –  Colin Fine Jun 1 '11 at 16:49
    
@Colin Fine Yep, haven't noticed it until saw the other answers –  Philoto Jun 2 '11 at 4:41
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Even in archaic English, the imperative of 'Get' is - 'Get', ('Get thee to a nunnery', Hamlet). 'Getteth' (or occasionally 'geteth': see Philoto's answer) would be third person singular. Sadly, copywriters for billboards rarely check a 16th century dictionary (or even this site), before approving an amusing, eye-catching line.

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+1, haven't noticed it –  Philoto Jun 1 '11 at 15:25
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As well as the spelling, it seems a very strange construction. Obviously it is meant to be comically archaic language, but I think it would read better as

The tax man cometh. Getteth thou the tax.

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'... meant to be comically archaic language ...' In this instance, or in other uses of the word / this form? If the latter, then all I can really say is that you must find the KJV Bible hilarious. –  Grant Thomas Jun 1 '11 at 9:19
    
@Mr. Disappointment - In this instance, rather than in genuine historical usage or even artistic anachronistic usage. Saying that, the KJV can be hilarious at times - all the stuff about bowels moving with compassion! –  neil Jun 1 '11 at 11:37
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Learnest thou thy archaic conjugations. The conjugation of get goeth: thou gettest and not thou getteth. –  Peter Shor Jun 1 '11 at 14:21
    
@Peter Shor - I knew there was something wrong. However, I think @TimLymington is correct. While gettest may be the present, get is the imperative. –  neil Jun 1 '11 at 16:27
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