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Take this phrase:

"That's what you get."

The wording implies that it could be used both positively and negatively, à la 'what goes around comes around.' That is, if I do something good, I 'get' rewarded, and if I do something bad/dumb, I 'get' punished.

And 'getting' is normally considered a good thing, because you've received something- does that make derisive uses of this phrase sarcastic? (Because the literal implication of the verb 'to get' is a positive one.)

Also, despite the fact that it could, semantically speaking, be used to either praise or chide someone, I don't think I've ever seen the phrase used in a positive manner. The wording suggests that you got a reward or obtained something, but it seems to rarely be used that way. Why is that?

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  • Hello, Maslow. It usually does refer to something undesirable happening to the addressee, but I'd say the usage is usually ironic, worldly wise rather than intended to add to the misery (sarcastic) if said by a third party. Jun 10, 2023 at 18:11
  • @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ Changed to a close vote.
    – alphabet
    Jun 10, 2023 at 18:44
  • @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ Ah. I didn't know about that limitation.
    – alphabet
    Jun 10, 2023 at 19:39
  • 2
    @Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_ Done!
    – alphabet
    Jun 11, 2023 at 18:41
  • "That's what you get for..." is common in my opinion ("That's what you get for taking a job at a start-up/going out without an umbrella/marrying a psychopath/etc"), but I've not heard "That's what you get." used without clarification - is it an American thing?
    – Stuart F
    Jun 12, 2023 at 9:02

3 Answers 3

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The word "get" here means, as TfD defines it, "to meet with or incur," "to be subjected to; undergo," or "to receive as retribution or punishment." The word is being used literally, not sarcastically.

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The reference isn't perhaps prestigious, but Calliemaev at HiNative agrees with my take on this:

  • Basically, it [is used to comment on an occasion] when something (usually negative) happens to someone as a result of a decision (usually a bad one) they have made.

There is no requirement that the comment is being made maliciously, though it often is.

Songtell analyses the lyrics of the song (by American rock band Paramore) 'That’s What You Get'. The song appears as a salutary warning rather than a put-down:

  • The song 'That’s What You Get (Live from Chicago)' is about learning from mistakes in love and relationships. The main theme is that following your heart can often lead to painful experiences, but that it's important to move on and learn from these ups and downs. The chorus repeats, "That's what you get when you let your heart win." This line serves as a reminder that it's important to take care of your heart and weigh the risks when making decisions in love and relationships.

Perhaps one of the 10 hits for << "that's what you get" -lyrics -Paramore >> in a Google search could be argued to be possibly malicious (early results tend to be skewed, predominated by references to the songs). The rest seem rather to show resignation or in one case a positive analysis ('It's not often you find a teenage center-back with both technical skill and physical gifts, but that's what you get with Wynder').

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I don't think I've ever seen the phrase used in a positive manner.

"That's what you get." is neutral, it is the context that decides the polarity:

A:"I see Joe has retired at 40 and bought a villa in France."

B: "That's what you get when you put your mind to making money."

C: Doctors told him he'd never walk again, but here he is running a marathon: That's what you get from determination."

D:[at the drag race]: "My God! That was a record run!

E: "That's what you get when you run on pure nitro!"

Etc.

"That's what you get" merely gives a result.

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