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Watching A Stranger Among Us, I noticed that Melanie Griffith twice asked

"What do you got?"

I recognise this as an American construction which sounds strange to me — Brits invariably say either "What have you got?" or "What do you have?". But I'd be interested to know if it's considered "normal" by most/all Americans, or if it's regionally or otherwise restricted.

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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Gimme a break.

In this instance, "What do you got" is a false orthographicalization of colloquial "Whadayagot", which in turn is a perfectly normal elision of formal "What have you got". A step less elided would be "What've you got"; a step more elided would be "Whatchagot?"

It only looks strange or improper because the writer/transcriber made it look so. A similarly imputed impropriety occurs with the spelling of 've as of: "If I'd known you were coming I'd of baked a cake."

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+1: Exactly—"what do you got" is a combination of two registers, formal and informal. So I would expect to hear (in order of formality) "whatcha got?", "whadaya got?", "what've you got?", "what have you got?" or "what do you have?". Any of these would be perfectly normal. But pronounced as written, "what do you got?" and "whatcha have?" both sound a little off. –  Peter Shor Oct 20 '12 at 15:29
    
I know for lots of Americans, "d" and "t" aren't clearly distinguished (Family Guy regularly poke fun at the duty/doodie "homonym"), so this rings true to me. I have the subtitle file for the movie, where I can see it's transcribed as "What do you got". That's what my British ear hears anyway, but I guess it needn't be the intention of the speaker. –  FumbleFingers Oct 20 '12 at 15:52
    
@FumbleFingers We always tend to voice (and deaspirate) consonants in a voiced environment; and once you drop the 'h' in 'have', you've got a phonetic environment which is voiced on both sides. –  StoneyB Oct 20 '12 at 16:30
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@FumbleFingers Quite so. But although you naturally assume that an American innovation is eccentric or illiterate, I don't think you would on your own have arrived at "do" in that phrase if the transcriber had written "What 'a you got" or "Whatchagot". –  StoneyB Oct 22 '12 at 13:25
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@StoneyB: Absolutely. So I'm going to read your first "Gimme a break" as just another example of how the spoken word might be transcribed, rather than an exasperated "How could you ask such a basic question?". But you're quite right - I am a bit of a "linguistic bigot". I tend to assume American linguistic innovation is down to eccentricity or illiteracy, where the same thing from Brits is just us creatively enriching the language. –  FumbleFingers Oct 22 '12 at 14:57
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"What do you got" is used frequently in American shows such as NCIS and just about any procedural police show. I'm Australian and it grates for me too. Being a bit deaf I use subtitles most of the time and it's always spelt out as "what do you got?".

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The single most famous instance of "Whaddaya got" in U.S. popular culture is probably the exchange between Mildred (Peggy Maley) and Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando) in The Wild One (1953):

Mildred: Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?

Johnny: Whadda you got?

That spelling is the Internet Movie Database's, by the way—Brando doesn't pronounce the "you" as "yoo"; in fact, he pronounces "Whaddaya" more like "Wudduhyuh."

The spelling "What do you got" remains somewhat uncommon in Google Books results and goes back only to about 1990, though both Philip Roth (in I Married a Communist [1998] and The Plot Against America [2004]) and Tom Clancy (in Rainbow Six [1999] and The Bear and the Dragon [2001]) have used it more than once. I've also noticed that in a popular U.S. comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, the cartoonist sometimes sets up a joke in the first panel by having one character ask another, e.g., "What do you got there, Rat?" It looks odd to me. I'm fairly sure, though, that usage of "What do you got" in written U.S. English has increased significantly since the turn of the century.

The first written instance of the phrase that I've been able to find is in a joke from 1915, and the spelling used is "whaddya got." From The Judge, volume 68 (subsequently reprinted in scads of periodicals over the next decade, and as late as 1960 in The Complete Toastmaster: A New Treasury for Speakers):

Tourist (in village notion store)—Whaddya got in the shape of automobile tires?

Saleslady—Funeral wreaths, life preservers, invalid cushions, and doughnuts.

They sure don't write 'em like that any more.

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