Re: Needful things.

Subject: Re: Needful things.
From: Nancy Paisner <nancy -at- HI -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 1994 13:59:06 EDT


> 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
> {picture}".

> 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."

Glad to hear that someone besides me has that reaction to 'you need.'
I have major problems with it. To me, it always seems the lazy way to
avoid finding an alternative construction when a writer doesn't want
to use the too-authoritarian 'you [must/have to] fingledweeb ...' but
doesn't want to go to the trouble of constructing (my preference) a
simple imperative 'fingledweeb ...'

Besides, to me, it just looks *wrong*! And in fact, from my reading of
my Webster's, it *is* wrong. As far as I can tell, 'need' can't take a
verb as an object, only a noun. So the usage 'need to [do something],'
as in 'need to answer' is incorrect. On the other hand, the usage 'need [do
something],' as in 'need answer,' though old-fashioned, is correct.

> 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."

I must admit that I don't like 'you should' much better than 'you need
to,' though at least it isn't grammatically wrong. But why do you need
any introductory phrase at all to the simple imperative:
"Windows can't find VTDAPI.386. Run SETUP again."

Although this may not be intuitive, I find that a simple imperative
has less authoritarian connotation than 'should,' 'must,' or 'have
to.' Maybe because it's so impersonal.

> 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."

Actually, I have no trouble with this one; as I said above, 'need'
goes perfectly well with nouns. :-)

> 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
> answer.

> Hasta,

> '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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