Wednesday, September 14, 2011

WNW: Needs Washed. Twitch.

Recently, Mignon Fogarty (known as Grammar Girl, the author of the book I talked about in last week's Word Nerd Wednesday) asked her readers on Facebook to help her pinpoint a geographical trend in speech.

It's a quirk and (yes, I'll say it) an error that puzzles me, but I hear it often enough.

I don't know where it hails from. I get the idea that it's particularly common the Midwest, but I've seen people use it who are from all over the place, from California to Florida and in between.

As we usually do here on WNW, the grammatical "back story" first:

A direct object is something a verb modifies, or refers to.
Amy drank milk.
Brandon eats candy.
Here, milk and candy are the direct objects. They're what the verbs (drank, eats) refer to.

Direct objects are nouns.

A refresher: What's a noun? A person, place or thing.

A noun is NOT an adjective or a state of being.

For the goofiness of it (because it'll show the quirk later), let's turn one of the direct objects above into an adjective. Let's see how well that works:
Adjective: Amy drank red.
Okay, that doesn't work at all. You could add something to it so it makes sense, like, oh A NOUN after RED (which we needed all along, right?):
Amy drank red punch.
Let's try it with a state of being:
Brandon eats washed.
Granted, that's beyond silly. But it shows that a state of being, or in this case, a past-tense verb, simply can't work here. It doesn't make sense. You couldn't come up with another set of verb + direct object where a state of being works. Those just don't go together.

How about this state of being:
The turkey is cooked.
See, now that works. Why? We aren't using a verb that requires a direct object.

The sentence is constructed to explain the state of being the turkey is in, using the key word IS. So we don't need a direct object that the verb refers to. The turkey just IS.

You can ask, "The turkey is what?" and the answer is clear: "The turkey is cooked."

But what if the turkey isn't cooked yet, and you need to tell someone to put the turkey into the oven? You could start out with stating the situation of the turkey:
"The turkey isn't cooked."
Or just say what needs to happen. NEED is a verb that requires a direct object. Refresher: a direct object is a NOUN, right?

So: Ready for the quiz?
The turkey needs . . . WHAT?
Well, it's raw. We aren't saying the turkey needs a hat or a box. But we do need a noun, and it needs to be an action, although a verb won't do. (Because verbs aren't nouns!)

BUT you can "noun-ify" verbs in two ways:

1) Add -ING to the end. The turkey needs cooking.

2) ADD "TO BE" before it. The turkey needs to be cooked.

Here's where I get all a-twitching. I see people say things like this all the time:

The car needs washed.

Who needs tickled?

**Direct objects are NOUNS. Past-tense verbs aren't nouns.**

So these are correct:
The car needs TO BE washed.
The car needs WASHING.

Who needs TO BE tickled?
Who needs TICKLING?

The turkey needs TO BE cooked.
The turkey needs COOKING.

I let some things slide with my kids, rules that are gradually going away and may seem antiquated (who/whom, can/may), but stuff like this is absolutely crazy-making to my ear.


Anonymous said...

Ah, grammar lessons. I need these. Sometimes I know but I don't know why, so thank you for explaining why!

Teri's Blog said...

Oh my goodness, please come to England and give a pronoun lesson! They use me for my. It is driving me crazy!

Luisa Perkins said...

Say WHAT? I've never heard that particular quirk before. No wonder it drives you nuts! That is crazy.

Jordan McCollum said...

Maybe it's the linguist/descriptivist training hammered in to me, but we'll have to part ways on this. This is most definitely correct usage in several varieties of English (though obviously not yours, nor mine—but I've put it in my characters' mouths and thoughts).

GG actually posted a podcast/article about the construct last week that covers absolutely everything I was going to say, but here are the points I was going to make:

1. It's a simple case of ellipsis (which GG uses a more technical term for this particular variety of ellipsis: "infinitival copula deletion").

2. It's the predominant usage in Scotland and Ireland (to this day) that was inherited mostly in the Midwest and PA (a phenomenon we talked about in at least one Linguistics class, which I've confirmed with residents of the US areas).

3. It's a regionalism. You don't have to use it—in fact, don't, that would be fakey and awful. But I think people who do use it and have always used it shouldn't have to change. Regionalisms give our language color! (Plus they're much easier to stick in dialogue than dialect!)

But now if y'all'll pardon me, I'm fi'n to get to work.

Susan Anderson said...

Yep, that bugs me too.

Conversely, I am bothered when people say I "relish in" something rather than I "relish" something.

ex. I "relish in" time spent with my children rather than the correct usage of "I relish time with my children."


Shanda said...

I have never heard people speak like this, thank goodness. Now I'll probably hear it everywhere. How annoying. *shudder*


Jessica G. said...

Haven't heard this one and oh boy, would it make my eyelid twitch.
We're currently working on stamping out "I amn't" around here…it's cute but it still sounds like nails on a chalkboard.


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