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What does 'gotcha' mean? When would you use it?

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Gotcha actually has several meanings. All of them can be derived from the phrase of which this is a phonetic spelling, namely "[I have] got you".

  • Literally, from the sense of got = "caught, obtained", it means "I've caught you". As in, you were falling, and I caught you, or you were running, and I grabbed you.

  • It's a short step from the benign type of caught to the red-handed type of caught. Thus, gotcha is often used when you witness someone doing something naughty.

  • Again, it's a short step from I-caught-you-doing-something-you-oughtn't to Surprise! I tricked you! This sense of gotcha is used when someone falls for a practical joke, for example.

  • A somewhat-natural progression from the "I tricked you" meaning is gotcha used as a noun: this is a feature of a system (e.g. a programming language) which trips you up or catches you off-guard.

  • And finally, from the figurative sense of got = "understood", gotcha can be used to mean "Aha, I see now" or "I understand".

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  • +1 Well, that's certainly the most comprehensive answer. – Orbling Dec 10 '10 at 22:48
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    +1 For including the noun sense, which is the first thing I think of. – Jon Purdy Dec 10 '10 at 23:04
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    +1 and a link to all this stuff, including that, erm, weird arcade game. – RegDwigнt Dec 10 '10 at 23:41
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    Today I learned that the meaning of gotcha is very rarely the meaning I most often associate it with - i.e. to have understood something... – Arvindh Mani Aug 15 '18 at 14:56
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Following from Jasper Loy's statement.

It is short for "Got you!", itself having the subject implied "I have got you.".

It regularly means, at least in the UK, "I understand [what you mean]".

A: You turn left, then right, go straight on and it is on your left.

B: Gotcha!

and

A: They'll never know who did it... <manic laughter>

B: Gotcha! You little tyke!

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    It regularly means, at least in the UK, "I understand [what you mean]". - True in the US as well – Adam Dec 10 '10 at 22:46
  • @Adam Thanks for that, I thought it did in the US, but was unsure. – Orbling Dec 10 '10 at 22:47
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It is short for got you.

We use it when we have caught somebody doing something or when we have tricked somebody. In fact, there was a comedy show called Gotcha!

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Gotcha

  1. 'Got you' like caught you doing something you should be doing.
  2. In programming a variable of step not considered that causes an error.
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    +1 That was a meaning I forgot to mention, your second point. A "gotcha" can be a pitfall, trap or potential issue in an environment or situation (or a programming language). A common phrase is "are there any gotchas?", asking if their are any potential issues that will catch you out if unaware of their presence. – Orbling Dec 14 '10 at 0:25
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It can also mean literally "I have got you." If I catch someone before they fall, I could say "Gotcha!"

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