Dictionary coverage of 'get shed/shot/shut of'
None of the three dictionaries of American idioms that I consulted has any entry for "get shed/shot/shut of," suggesting either that the idiom is not widely used in the United States today or that it is not viewed by reference works as an idiom. This strikes me as odd, since I have been aware of it for years, although I don't know from where.
In any case, three dictionaries of British English idioms have entries for at least one of the three variant phrases listed. From Longman Dictionary of English Idioms (1979):
get shot of coll[oquial] to settle or deal with (a job, difficulty, eyc.) so that it needs no further attention: I'll be home as soon as I can, but there's a small problem I'd like to get shot of before I leave the office
From Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms (1998):
get shot of sb/sth British, informal to get rid of someone or something | She go shot of her no-good husband and went back to university.
be shot of sb/sth | This boy ha caused so much trouble that the school just want to be shot of him.
And from John Ayto, Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms, third edition (2009):
get (or be) shot of get (or be) rid of. British informal
be (or get) shut of be (or get) rid of. informal
So all three of these reference works acknowledge "get shot of," and one also acknowledges "get shut of" (as well as "be shot of" and "be shut of"). None of the three mention "get shed of." This small collection of evidence suggests first that the idiom is chiefly British, and second that "get shot of" is the most well-established variant and "get shed of the least.
Extending the original poster's Ngram chart for "get shed of" (blue line) versus "get shut of" (red line) versus "get shot of" (green line) for the period 1700–2019, we get the following results:
The results indicate that "get shut of" was the earliest form (by a considerable margin), that "get shot of" was the second form to appear, and that "get shed of" is the youngest form of the three. The results also suggest that "get shot of is currently the most frequent form in published work, with "get shut of" not far behind and "get shed of" trailing both by a considerable margin.
Early in-the-wild instances of each variant form
Searches of the Early English Books Online database of books from no later than 1700 turn up a dozen matches for "get shut of" from the period 1655–1699. The earliest is from James Naylor, An Answer to a Book Called The Quakers Catechism, Put Out by Richard Baxter (1655):
- qu. Is about singing Davids Psalms, and for answer to this thou sends us to a Book of Cottons and Ford, and say thou knows no reason why thou should add any more; a pretty shuffle to get shut of that thou canst not prove; yet though thou have lost thy reason to answer, thou wil ask more queres, 1. If the Scripture be written for our use, why may not we speak to God in Davids words? I say because David would not keep a lyar in his house, may thou who art found a lyar, sing these words; the Scripture was not written by such a Spirit, nor to such a spirit, nor doth such learn ought by the Letter, but to cover thy shame, and deceive others, as appears by thy practise.
From James Naylor (again), A Second Answer to Thomas Moore, to That Which He Calls, His Defence Against the Poyson, &c. (1656):
In thy first Book thou made an objection, Can flesh and blood enter into the Kingdom of Heaven? and thou answers, No, yet the same flesh and bones may, the blood being powred out and gone to which answer, what confused stuffe is this that proceeds from thy imaginations? Is Christ ascended without blood? or is it onely the blood of people that keeps the[m] from ascending, which they must leave behinde them, taking the same flesh and bones, but not the same blood; and in this Book thou excuses the matter, with saying he is ascended without material blood; and yet with the vertues of that blood. I say, again, hath he materiall flesh and bones, and not materiall blood, then is he not the same that he was, when he was upon earth. But why dost thou not make some answer to thy other clause; how people must do to get shut of their blood, seeing thy faith is, they cannot ascend till their blood be poured forth[.]
From Jonathan Johnson, "The Quaker Quasht and His Quarrel Quelled" (1659):
And then saist thou, away with Pauls Epistles, and by consequence with the rest of the Scripture.
Answ. That is it thou strives for, to get shut of the Scriptures, for their witness torments thee, but thou labours in vain, for they will out-live all the generations of falshood, and be a continual witness against mens devices, as is plainly manifested in this.
And from Martin Mason, "Sions Enemy Discovered, or the Worker of Iniquity Rebuked and Innocency Cleared in a Reply to Seven Sheets of Paper Published by Jonathan Johnson of Lincoln" (1659):
But why dost thou tell me, that I strive to get shut of the scriptures, and that their witness does torment me? these two lyes lye near one an other; and know thou O man the scriptures testimony is for me, and not against the truth which I holdforth, viz. That the light of Christ in the conscience is more glorious and excellent then the letter, and all thy babbling against perfection, is palpable contradiction to the doctrine of the Son of God, by him and his Apostles left upon record in scriptures: Thou art forced to confesse, That Abraham and the rest of the holy men of God had the spirit of truth within them before the Law written by Moses, And is not the Lord as good, as gratious now, as ever to his people?
Clearly the dueling polemics of Quakers and their enemies were a hotbed of "get shut of" in the middle seventeenth century. EEBO finds no matches for "get shed of" or "get shot of."
One of the earliest matches for "get shot of" that a Google Books seatch finds is friom North Amrica. From a letter printed in the [Boston, Massachusetts] New England Courant (December 16, 1724):
But here I must answer an Objection which some will be ready to make. Get shot of the Merchants! say they; Why, What? Would you knock their Brains out? or tye them Back to Back and throw them into the Sea? No, say I, We should be happy if we could get rid of them as Merchants, not as Men; for if the greater Part would lay their Bones to, go into the Country and delve and manure the Earth, there would be some Hopes of their earning their Bread; for now (as Sir Francis Bacon says of an overgrown Clergy) they bring nothing to the Stock, but are Publick Pensioners in the sense of my present Argument : So that he who brings up his Son to be a Merchant, unless he can give him an Estate, only puts him in a Capacity to be maintain'd by the Publick.
"Get shot of" also appears in Todd's revision of Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, volume 4 (1818):
SHOT of.* part. Discharged; quit; freed from: a colloquial expression: as, he cannot get shot of it.
But "get shut of" appears there, too:
SHUT. Participial adjective. Rid ; clear ; free. [Example:] We must not pray into one breath to find a thief, and in the next to get shut of him. [—]L'Estrange
"Get shot of" also appears in John Brockett, A Glossary of North Country Words in Use (1825):
SHOT-OF, freed from. To get shot of a person—to get rid of him.
The expression also appears (in both "shot" and "shut" forms) in John Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases, Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States (1848):
SHUT. Quit; rid. To be shut of, or to get shut of, signifies to be or to get rid of. We also say, to be or get shot of. The expression is common in England.
"Do you call those houzen—those things that have stoops to them?" as he saw here and there a log cabin or unpainted hut, such as abound in the sparsely settled regions of the South. "They pass for houses hereabouts," replied Mr. S——, "though the original owners have generally contrived to get shut of them and gone coon-hunting to the Mississippi."—Letter in N.Y. Journal of Commerce.
As for "get shed of," the earliest match I've been able to find for it is from "Anderport Records.—No. 1," in the [New York] American Whig Review (December 1849):
"What's to pay?" exclaimed the visitor. "You are not turned shoemaker, surely?"
"Yes, I am, though," responded Weeks. "I want to get shed of all my bad ways, and try to earn a decent, quiet livin' by working. It's 'bout time my manners was mended, I judge, for they promise to be past patching before long."
Also, from Henry Maney, Memories Over the Water: Or, Stray Thoughts on a Long Stroll (1854):
Ascending again to the light of day we made preparation for the ascent of Vesuvius. ... On leaving Recini we were beset with a crowd of lazzaroni, who, with bundles of walking-canes in their hands, endeavored to torment us into a purchase. We had to beat one importunate scamp over the head with our overcoat, before we could get shed of him.
From "Editor's Table," in The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine (December 1858):
You have seen a man such as this, reader, have you not?—a croaker, who never predicts any thing that is not evil, and who reverses POPE's idea, and always holds, that 'whatever is, is wrong?' You meet him some fine bracing autumn-morning, and salute him with: 'A charming morning this: such a glorious day is enough of itself to make a man in love with life.' 'Ya-e-e-s : pleasant enough now ; but it's a weather-breeder, Sir—a reg'lar weather-breeder : we shall pay for this : now mind I tell you!' Three weeks after, you encounter him on a rainy day: 'Aha!' he exclaims ; 'what did I tell you? It's on us now, and we shan't 'get shed of it' in a hurry : the regular equinoctial, and plenty after that!' And so with every thing : nothing but 'croak! croak!' like a crow, all the while.
From Mayne Reid, The Bush-boys, Or, The History and Adventures of a Cape Farmer and His Family in the Wild Karoos of Southern Africa (1860):
He [the quagga] did not lose ground, however. His eagerness to regain his old associates, to partake once more of their wild freedom—for he was desperately tired of civilized society, and sick of elephant hunting—all these ideas crowded into his mind at the moment, and nerved him to the utmost exertion. Could he only get up into the body of the crowd [of wild quaggas],—for the herd now ran in a crowd,—a few whimpers would suffice to explain ; they would come to a halt at once,—they would gather around him, and assist both with hoofs and teeth to get "shed" of the ugly two-legged thing that clung so tightly to his dorsal vertebræ.
And from "A Word-List from East Alabama," in Dialect Notes, volume 3, part 5 (1909):
shed, adj., Rid. "I couldn't get shed of him." Also shet.
The timing of these three variants strongly suggests that "get shut of" was the original wording and carried a meaning similar to "shut the door on."
The variant "get shot of" appears within seventy years (barely) of the earliest instance I found of "get shut of." The likeliest explanation for its emergence is a mishearing of the original wording during oral transmission of the expression.
A similar mishearing may explain the rise of "get shed of" in the mid-1800s. Alternatively, if the source form of the expression in this case was "get shot of," it may be that a hearer thought that "get shot of" made less sense than "get shed of" as a way of saying "get rid of"—and altered the phrase accordingly.