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?
Is the phrase "getting on" commonly used in British English? What register would its use be in?
1I 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.– simchonaJul 28, 2011 at 7:09
Aside. Your use of "register" in the subject seems strange to me. Is that also British?– GEdgarApr 16, 2013 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.
3It'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.– WaggersJul 28, 2011 at 9:17
@JoseK Great research Jul 28, 2011 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?'
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".