English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've collected a new phrase from my watching of British television, getting on, as in "How's he getting on?" From various contexts, I think I've gotten the meaning down to "how's he doing?" Anyway, I was wondering, is this phrase commonly used throughout the UK, or is specifically London argot? Second, does its use invoke any class stereotypes? I.e., would using it in formal situation reek of informality, is it very slang-y?

share|improve this question
I don't know how the term is used in the UK (I'm used to Am. Eng., but I have heard the phrase) but your initial definition seems right. – simchona Jul 28 '11 at 7:09
Aside. Your use of "register" in the subject seems strange to me. Is that also British? – GEdgar Apr 16 '13 at 15:20

Google Ngrams shows "How are you getting on ?" as a common phrase from the mid 19th century most of which seem to be British publications.

From the usage I see, I would not classify it as slang. Rather just a colloquial way of asking "How do you do ?"

The Family treasury of Sunday reading, ed. by A. Cameron 1859

Why, sometimes when I preach in the country, and ask, " Brother, how are you getting on here". I am told, " Pretty well."

Household words, Volume 11 By Charles Dickens

How are you getting on with the cast ?" he asked. " Do you want any help ?" "None, brother, I thank you," answered the priest.

I can find one American example from The Baltimore literary and religious magazine, Volume 1 By Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, Andrew Boyd Cross dated 1835

"How are you to-day, John?" said he.

"Well, Sir, 1 thank ye; quite well, thank God."

"How are you getting on John? The times are pretty hard, and you are getting old; how do you make out?"

The Cambrige dictionary lists the common AmE variant of "getting on" as "getting along"

Based on the usage in a sentence, it lists the various definitions. I think usage D,E,F are quite typical in UK.

A. get on - mainly UK (mainly US - get along) to have a good relationship

We're getting on much better now that we don't live together.

B. get on - mainly UK (mainly US - get along) to manage or deal with a situation, especially successfully

How are you getting on in your new flat?

We're getting on quite well with the decorating.

C. get on - to continue doing something, especially work

I suppose I could get on with the ironing while I'm waiting.

D. to be getting old

He's getting on (a bit) - he'll be seventy-six next birthday.

E. (informal) If you say it's getting on, or time is getting on, you mean it is becoming late

It's getting on - we'd better be going.

F. UK "getting on for" (US going on) almost

He must be getting on for 80 now.

It was getting on for midnight.

share|improve this answer
It's not really synonymous with "how do you do?" - "How do you do" is more of a polite greeting than a genuine enquiry into someone's wellbeing. "How are you getting on?" is different in two respects: it's a genuine question requiring a genuine answer, and it tends to refer to a specific situation/activity ("how are you getting on [with this piece of work]"/"how are you getting on [following your illness]") whereas "how do you do" is much more general in nature. – Waggers Jul 28 '11 at 9:17
@JoseK Great research – Thursagen Jul 28 '11 at 9:30

An example of usage:

Someone has a task they are taking care of and you would like to know how they are progressing with the task, you could ask them 'How are you getting on?' if it were obvious what task you were referring to.

If it were not so obvious what you were referring to, you may refer specifically to the task, such as 'How are you getting on with that book you're writing?'

share|improve this answer

I'm from Newfoundland Canada and the phrase "How are ya getting on?" is still in daily use here. It means "how are you doing" or "how is life treating you".

share|improve this answer

protected by tchrist Feb 22 '15 at 0:37

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.