Needful things.

Subject: Needful things.
From: Bill Brooks <wbrooks -at- VOLTA -dot- ELEE -dot- CALPOLY -dot- EDU>
Date: Wed, 14 Sep 1994 12:06:28 -0700

Hi there,

I know the 'pet peeves' thread was dead and buried and decayed long
before I decided to de-lurk here, but I can't figure out why a
particular construct bothers me. Won't you all give me the benefit of
your experience?

During peer edits I always make sure to get rid of "you need...".
A good example is the error message I kept getting when I changed
hard drives:
"Windows can't find VTDAPI.386. You need to run
SETUP again."

...or the ever popular:

"If your PC's serial connector looks like this
{picture}, you need a shielded serial cable like this

I don't like this phrase because it reminds me of the
yuppieization of the work place. Instead of a manager asking a
subordinate "...Joan, could you please get the report to me by
the end of the day?" she'd say, "Joan, we need to get that report
done by the end of the day."

I guess the rationale is that saying "please" was too much like
begging someone to do something they get paid for, while saying "Joan,
I want the report TODAY!" is too bossy. Of course, this is all based
on my limited observation.

I always insert some good old-fashioned modal auxiliaries, such
as 'should':
"Windows can't find VTDAPI.386. You should run
SETUP again."

My problem is that somebody asked me to explain the grammatical
reason "you need" is so ugly. I don't really have an answer.
The closest I can come to an explanation is the likelihood of
getting need-happy and using it to anthropomorphize:
"Windows needs to access VTDAPI.386. You need to
run SETUP again."

"If your PC has a connector like this, it needs a
a shielded serial cable like this."

AACK! But this isn't good enough. I'm sure I'm not the only one
bothered by "you need". Hopefully one of you can give me a solid


'I think I should understand that better,'
Alice said very politely, 'if I had it
Bill Brooks written down: but I'm afraid I can't quite
wbrooks -at- volta -dot- elee -dot- calpoly -dot- edu follow it as you say it." - Lewis Carroll

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