A Quick Question for the Ricochet Grammarians

 

Many of my Ohioan peers and coworkers omit the verb “to be” in passive constructions, especially when assigning tasks. They’ll say, “These shirts need folded,” rather than, “These shirts need to be folded,” or, “These shirts need folding.”

Today, I asked my Latin professor about this. She speculated that the form may be a “Germanism,” a bit like the infamous question, “Come with?” (In the 19th century, central Ohio harbored a sizable German population.) According to my German-major roommate, though, the German language, like English, permits only the infinitive (“needs to be folded”) and gerund (“needs folding”) in this situation.

Where, then, did “need folded” (and its variants) originate? Why would “to be” disappear from the passive? Is it merely linguistic laziness? Or an example of language’s natural tendency to simplify?

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  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    What a delightful question having nothing to do with Trump, Cruz, or Rubio!  I hope you get the answer you need, or a million comments rocketing this to the Most Popular box, or a Main Feed promotion.

    All I can give is these good wishes.  I have no idea what the answer is.

    • #1
  2. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Kephalithos: Is it merely linguistic laziness?

    I have no idea, not being an Ohioan or a grammarian but I’d bet on laziness.

    It’s the underlying reason for pretty much everything.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Austin Murrey:

    Kephalithos: Is it merely linguistic laziness?

    I have no idea, not being an Ohioan or a grammarian but I’d bet on laziness.

    It’s the underlying reason for pretty much everything.

    What he said. (Too lazy to formulate my own response.)

    • #3
  4. Brian Watt Inactive
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    “These shirts need folded” is incorrect grammar.

    Your peers and co-workers need beated.

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Brian Watt:“These shirts need folded” is incorrect grammar.

    Your peers and co-workers need beated.

    I love you, Brian.

    • #5
  6. She Member
    She
    @She

    Arahant:

    Brian Watt:“These shirts need folded” is incorrect grammar.

    Your peers and co-workers need beated.

    I love you, Brian.

    Wait.  I’m jealous.  Not to mention, worried.

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    She: Wait. I’m jealous. Not to mention, worried.

    That goes for anyone who makes me laugh that hard, and you have certainly done so.

    • #7
  8. She Member
    She
    @She

    It’s a Pittsburgh, and Western PA formulation as well.  I’ve also heard that it’s a Germanic construction,  but I really don’t know where it came from.  My mother-in-law used it a lot.  The car needs washed.  The furniture needs dusted.  And she complicated it a bit with phrases like “the house needs red-up.”  What?

    Red-up, I think is derived from English and Scottish immigrants, “redd up” being an ancient term meaning ‘clean up.’    So perhaps the whole thing is an obsolete English/Scottish formation.

    • #8
  9. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    The omission of “to be” is a Pittsburgh construction, as far as I know; I bet your Ohioan colleagues come from the Eastern part of the state. You’d probably have to look into the greatest ethnic contributors to the population of Pittsburgh to figure out what language it comes from.

    There’s the famous soliloquy from Hamlet, as rendered in Pittsburgh:

    “Or not.”

    • #9
  10. The Dowager Jojo Inactive
    The Dowager Jojo
    @TheDowagerJojo

    I don ‘t know either but I noticed that construction in western Pennsylvania. “My hair needs washed” et cetera. They don’t use it in eastern PA where they are just as lazy.
    Trump needs gay married. So there.

    • #10
  11. wearts Member
    wearts
    @wearts

    Geez. Why all the  passive construction?  “You need to fold the shirts” gets results. Add please if you want to be nice.

    • #11
  12. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Arahant:

    Austin Murrey:

    Kephalithos: Is it merely linguistic laziness?

    I have no idea, not being an Ohioan or a grammarian but I’d bet on laziness.

    It’s the underlying reason for pretty much everything.

    What he said. (Too lazy to formulate my own response.)

    Me, too.

    Arahant:

    Brian Watt:“These shirts need folded” is incorrect grammar.

    Your peers and co-workers need beated.

    I love you, Brian.

    Me, too.

    • #12
  13. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Brian Watt:“These shirts need folded” is incorrect grammar.

    Your peers and co-workers need beated.

    “beaten”

    • #13
  14. The Gold Tooth Inactive
    The Gold Tooth
    @TheGoldTooth

    A candidate (Kasich, I believe) used this construction in a recent GOP debate and its strangeness was commented on in the accompanying Ricochet live chat. I’ve only heard it in the Pittsburgh area.

    • #14
  15. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    I’ll add that I moved directly from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee, and I can tell you all about Milwaukee turns of phrase that come directly from the German.  They were all new to me when I got to Milwaukee, so I don’t think there’s much of a German influence on Pittsburgh English.  I believe She is right that the Northern Irish (Scotch-Irish) are among the most influential ethnic groups in that region, so it would be interesting to know whether there is some similar locution in Northern Ireland.

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I must be hanging out with the wrong people. Never heard such constructions as acceptable, in CA or FL. Or maybe you’re hanging out with the wrong people.

    • #16
  17. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    If I may take the topic right off the rails, I’d like to point out that no shirt needs folding. A shirt needs nothing. It’s an inanimate object. It simply is.

    Now, a shirt’s owner may prefer it to be folded, but that’s an entirely different question.

    ;-)

    • #17
  18. She Member
    She
    @She

    Lucy Pevensie:I’ll add that I moved directly from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee, and I can tell you all about Milwaukee turns of phrase that come directly from the German. They were all new to me when I got to Milwaukee, so I don’t think there’s much of a German influence on Pittsburgh English. I believe She is right that the Northern Irish (Scotch-Irish) are among the most influential ethnic groups in that region, so it would be interesting to know whether there is some similar locution in Northern Ireland.

    Here’s more information that we ever wanted to know about this.  It does mention the Scots English formation, about 1/4 the way down.    This article from the Boston Globe says essentially the same thing.

    I had no idea this question needed studied to this extent.  Glad you asked it.

    • #18
  19. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    That is absolutely a western PA thing.  When I hear it, I’ll question someone and they’re always from PA.

    • #19
  20. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Austin Murrey:

    Kephalithos: Is it merely linguistic laziness?

    I have no idea, not being an Ohioan or a grammarian but I’d bet on laziness.

    It’s the underlying reason for pretty much everything.

    There might be truth in this. In linguistics classes, I learned that peoples worldwide tend to express vowels with less effort than their formal dialect demands. So, for example, English speakers tend to pronounce the sound “eye” as “ih” (in “itch”) in multi-syllable words. “Oh” and “ah” become “uh”.

    Whatever sounds least require the mouth to open wide and the lungs to be used energetically, that is what humans generally prefer in casual speech. If speaking to a crowd or reciting poetry or something formal like that, people are more likely to adhere to proper rules.

    Anyway, I’m familiar with that use of gerunds (“This needs folding”), but not with “needs folded.”

    Increasingly, I’m willing to drop the pronoun at the beginning of sentences when the subject is already clear. Ex: “I don’t like slasher flicks. Not into that stuff.”

    • #20
  21. Eric Wallace Inactive
    Eric Wallace
    @EricWallace

    Nebraska also seems to follow the “needs cleaned” structure.

    • #21
  22. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Being from Pittsburgh we call people from Ohio, Ohisians therefore don’t ask me.

    • #22
  23. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    PHCheese:Being from Pittsburgh we call people from Ohio, Ohisians therefore don’t ask me.

    Never been to Pittsburgh, but am I correct to call y’all Pittsburghers?

    Houston people are called Houstonians. When in Mobile, I never heard what they call themselves. Mobilians doesn’t sound right. Mobilee? (It used to be a French city.)

    • #23
  24. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Aaron Miller:

    PHCheese:Being from Pittsburgh we call people from Ohio, Ohisians therefore don’t ask me.

    Never been to Pittsburgh, but am I correct to call y’all Pittsburghers?

    Houston people are called Houstonians. When in Mobile, I never heard what they call themselves. Mobilians doesn’t sound right. Mobilee? (It used to be a French city.)

    Mobilites?

    • #24
  25. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    I’ve never heard this before. To my ears it sounds like something a 3 year old would say. Imagine doing that consistently, I wonder if even they do. So do they say “the dog needs walked” or “the cat needs fed”?

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Randy Weivoda:

    Aaron Miller:

    PHCheese:Being from Pittsburgh we call people from Ohio, Ohisians therefore don’t ask me.

    Never been to Pittsburgh, but am I correct to call y’all Pittsburghers?

    Houston people are called Houstonians. When in Mobile, I never heard what they call themselves. Mobilians doesn’t sound right. Mobilee? (It used to be a French city.)

    Mobilites?

    Mobiletti?

    • #26
  27. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Mobots?

    • #27
  28. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Apparently, there’s a word for this: demonym.

    And people from Mobile (pronounced mo-beel) do in fact use “Mobilian”, if they don’t prefer to identify themselves by as Crimson Tide fans.

    • #28
  29. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I’ve never heard of this barbarism in my entire life. I do not approve! No one must ever speak this way again. Like Aaron, I’ve studied linguistics. In Chicago, where I’m from, there are a lot of Germanisms such as “Come over by my house” instead of “to,” due to the German bei. (I’ve never said that, but I’ve heard it a lot) But there is just no excuse for “this shirt needs folded.” In fact, I can’t even look at that sentence ever again. I’d go read the link someone posted, but I don’t think I would recover from it.

    • #29
  30. Tonya M. Member
    Tonya M.
    @

    kylez:
    kylez

    I’ve never heard this before. To my ears it sounds like something a 3 year old would say. Imagine doing that consistently, I wonder if even they do. So do they say “the dog needs walked” or “the cat needs fed”?

    I was born and raised about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh, and this is exactly what people will say. “The dishes need washed, the kids need picked up, and the dog needs walked.”

    My high school English teacher would lose his mind over such local habits of speech. “Pop is what you do to a balloon, people. It is NOT something that you drink!”

    • #30
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