Needs washed
June 8, 2024 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Needs washed. The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America. Who says this? Murray and Simon (2002) describe the rough boundaries as Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Northern West Virginia, and Central Indiana. Pockets of speakers may exist in places as far-spread as Kentucky and Illinois. This construction is also attested in Scots English, which might be its historical source.

According to Murray and Simon (1999), the need/want + V-en construction displays sensitivity to no significant sociolinguistic factors other than race, and they say that "white [people] favour the construction significantly more than Black people" (pp. 149). Murray and Simon (2002) found that unlike white speakers, virtually no Black speakers accept like + V-en.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries (50 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I've always been fascinated by this construction! I had not heard it until college, when I dated someone whose parents were from Ohio, and while I did not adopt it at that time it started creeping into my vocabulary probably a decade later because, damn it, it just makes sense.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:19 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]

That map that rates acceptability on a 1-5 color-graded scale but doesn't say which end is "more" and which end is "less" is a bit of a gaffe.
posted by Well I never at 4:42 PM on June 8

That map that rates acceptability on a 1-5 color-graded scale but doesn't say which end is "more" and which end is "less" is a bit of a gaffe.

More acceptability = more number.

But haha, that map! I have only ever lived in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and the San Francisco Bay Area! I guess I should consider moving to central Louisiana next, if I want to continue never hearing this construction.
posted by aubilenon at 4:52 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


They need to do "the fusebox is down cellar" next. It would be interesting to see the overlap.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:01 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

I've heard that here in Michigan all my life.
posted by charris5005 at 5:02 PM on June 8

Even still, needs must
posted by chavenet at 5:10 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]

i can’t remember where i first heard that construction but i also liked it so much i started saying it. Not natively, i was living in Philly at the time. Maybe on the Language Log? (I was peripherally working with the LDC at the time I think.)
posted by supercres at 5:14 PM on June 8

Interesting. I'm in Baltimore, which this map indicates would have moderate acceptability for the "needs washed" construction, but I never heard it until I attended college in the late '90s/early '00s. My college was in eastern Pennsylvania, but there were enough people there from western Pennsylvania, Ohio and the like that it crept in.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:18 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

The variant I heard growing up in southeastern Kentucky tended more toward "needs warshed".
posted by HillbillyInBC at 5:24 PM on June 8 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I hear it, mostly in Midwest transplants here in FL. But, to my ear, it’s wrong. This needs washing (to be done) while that needs to be washed (also a future action). Needs washed? Well, it’s bad grammar and when I hear it I still think it needs corrected.
posted by sudogeek at 5:25 PM on June 8 [5 favorites]

I first heard this when I moved to the Midwest and it delights me and I have adopted it.
posted by cider at 5:34 PM on June 8

Wow, I say this (some family links to Indiana) and could not identify it as incorrect.

My brain needs washed.
posted by Dashy at 5:40 PM on June 8

I say this, (had northern panhandle WV parent) and didn't realize it was non-standard until I was in middle age.
posted by Vegiemon at 5:42 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Western Maryland. Grew up hearing it, but not from my own parents (Eastern Shore of MD). When I was a kid, it felt as wrong to me as “brang,” “acrosst,” and “warsh,” but I try not to let that sort of thing bother me as much as it used to.

A friend of mine hates the “needs done” construction so much that he won’t even accept “needs doing.”
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:55 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

When Mother would start cleaning the house and picking up items, she always said I've got to red up the house. She was from West central Pa.
posted by Czjewel at 5:56 PM on June 8 [4 favorites]

huh, originally from northwest pa and just realized that this was non-standard, was always something that I just accepted and didn't think about.
posted by tealNoise at 6:11 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

My wife and I (New Englanders) picked it up when I was in grad school in Indiana.
posted by briank at 6:27 PM on June 8

Ugh my kid is picking this up here in Central Ohio and I still don’t like it. My midwest is elsewhere.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:10 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

Western PA, Crawford County raised. Left when I was 18 for the west coast. Can confirm 100%; also PA is rife with micro-dialects. North-central PA, SW coal country, etc. It wasn’t until I left for college and then came back that it dawned on me how geographically small the region in which these people were born, lived, and died in is. Fewer than 100 miles for several of those small regional dialects. Fascinating.
I came across a content creator in West Virginia on TikTok recently and her whole schtick is just pronunciation, but it’s understandable why that content is so popular - very small geographical region for that dialect.
posted by WacoKid at 7:26 PM on June 8 [5 favorites]

I used to hear it in north eastern Pa. Alongside the most unwieldy shortening of Hamburger, I've ever heard, hamburg. I always wanted to correct them, no, it's burger, or hamburger, not hamburg! Goddamned rednecks. I never did though, it really wasn't that important, just another check mark on the list of reasons to gtfo of rural Pa.
posted by evilDoug at 7:45 PM on June 8

hamburg is what you use to make a hamburger.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:01 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]

I'm just delighted that a Facebook minion meme shared presumably by a grandfather in Ohio is in a Yale linguistics paper.
posted by jy4m at 8:41 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]

I have never heard this - I lived in the SF Bay Area for 20 years - but also I grew up and now live in a part of NZ settled by the scots and use lots of scottish words in my daily speech - maybe it's very archaic scottish (pre 1800)
posted by mbo at 9:18 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

I picked this construction up second hand from a grad school mentor who picked it up when he was in grad school in PA! I also have a vague sense it's been popping up more broadly for the past 2-3 years, but no evidence for this.
posted by heyforfour at 12:29 AM on June 9

I likes grammared.
posted by flabdablet at 12:40 AM on June 9

They need to do "the fusebox is down cellar" next.

How come? Needs checked?
posted by flabdablet at 12:46 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]

I can add a datapoint to the Scots English part: my wife’s and her family (Northern Irish; Ulster is a Scots dialect) all use this construction.

For her part, she was baffled that other people don't use it. I also started using it, purely through linguistic osmosis I guess. Or laziness, saves a couple words, right?
posted by parm at 12:58 AM on June 9

For some reason, to my ears (UK-based) "needs washed" is absolutely fine, "wants done" is fine, but any other verb than need or want there is just jarringly wrong (e.g. "dog likes petted" as given as example in TFA).

When Mother would start cleaning the house and picking up items, she always said I've got to red up the house.

To my Danish ears that sounds like a slight distortion of a scandinavian word kind of for 'tidy' ('rede')?
posted by Dysk at 1:26 AM on June 9 [6 favorites]

This is absolutely a Scots thing, and I've totally adopted it since settling north of the border. It's so much faster and clearer, and it's perfect for busy situations. Subject wants/needs verbed, boom, let's get it done. It's clear enough that folk will catch your meaning even if they're not familiar with that usage, so it's not even one of the things I have to remember to switch off down south.

It came up in this thread on Ask earlier this year.
posted by automatronic at 3:11 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

hamburg is what you use to make a hamburger.

needs musted
posted by chavenet at 4:32 AM on June 9 [5 favorites]

and devilled eggs the hindmost
posted by flabdablet at 4:39 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

I know it’s spread over a larger area, but I call it Pittsburghese because that’s where I heard needs cleaned first, among other delights. It was a bit jarring at first to hear all these unique regionalizations but they really grew on me. Not that I’ve adopted any of them, they just remain little artifacts in my mind from my time there.
posted by glaucon at 5:29 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]

While I theoretically understand that language is many things to many people, this contruction is nails on a chalkboard to me ... which is why I love that the map talks about acceptibility ranges and the racial background. With that it is like, oh, even my aversion is so very social. Such an interesting way to talk about it.
posted by dame at 6:15 AM on June 9

Now I am reading through all of these and I would like to see one on I was like, xxxx, becuase when I moved to the east coast mumblety years ago, I noticed it was not common, but I want to know if that has changed.
posted by dame at 6:26 AM on June 9

And I'm like, me too? So yeah.
posted by flabdablet at 7:48 AM on June 9

Czjewel / Dysk, this word is "redd" in English and Scots, and it's another Scots term that came over, like the construction discussed here, with the so-called "Scots Irish" population to Appalachia. As you would expect, its etymology is related to both Danish "rede" and English "ready".
posted by ecreeves at 8:37 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]

Wow! I'm 40-something years old and this is the first time I've heard that this construction is noteworthy or in any way non-standard. My area of exposure is southwestern Indiana & Austin-area Central Texas. (Both are areas with a strong German heritage, incidentally - I wonder if there's any connection there, or if it's 100% due to the Scots influence mentioned in the article.)

FWIW, to my ears:
-"needs verbed" is perfectly ok
-"wants verbed" is fine but feels slightly archaic
-"likes verbed" or any other verb-verb combo sounds wrong (basically what Dysk said above)
posted by Ann Telope at 8:39 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

I grew up in the suburbs on the West Shore of the Susquehanna river, near Harrisburg PA. I can testify that I heard the "needs washed" construction all the time growing up & that I will still use it myself. For example, I will say "The doors needs fixed."

They're also definitely right that this bit of dialect is very white. The West Shore was even mockingly referred to as "the White Shore," because a lot of the towns were probably sundown towns back in the day, although this has thankfully changed.

I can also confirm the WacoKid's observation that PA is rife with micro-dialects. Sometimes, it felt like I grew up on the border of where those dialect maps separate "people who say soda" vs. "people who say pop." Pennsylvania probably has those micro-dialects, because settlement in the state was not heterogeneous. In addition to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which have their own specialized dialects, anchoring the west & east of the state, You have Quakers, the Pennsylvania Dutch, Appalachians, and all the other white ethnic blocs that were brought to the coal regions as part of the mine owners' strategy of divide & conquer to keep their workers disunited. I grew up in southern Pennsylvania, but I also suspect there's some overlap of far northern Pennsylvania with upstate New Yorkers too.
posted by jonp72 at 9:11 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]

There's a number of overlapping constructions between Scots and Nordic languages that, when I catch them, I can't not think of viking boats and kilts. Red up is one, "ken" - "känna" (shen-na in Swedish, at least in West coast Swedish) is to know a thing but not a person - is another. I think it was actually my English teacher in Sweden (or maybe my Swedish teacher in Sweden) who pointed that out out to me, and others I've forgotten.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:41 AM on June 9

> In standard English, (1) would not be acceptable.

Whose standard English? There are many. I am from the south of Scotland, and this usage is absolutely correct.

I am somewhat delighted by the fact that — had my ancestors from southern Ayrshire and northern Dumfriesshire had more get-up-and-go — I could've been a hillbilly.
posted by scruss at 10:16 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]

Odd data point: for some unknown reason my wife's family uses this construction ("needs/wants VERBed", but no other variants). This is odd because they are from fearsomely middle-class Hertfordshire (south-eastern UK, near London), were privately educated, and were raised by a woman who was a speech therapist in the 50s and 60s, whose English was at least as precise as the actual Queen's.

It's not wrong, obviously, I'm no prescriptivist, but it does sounds so weird to my northern ears when they use it. It's only a construction I've otherwise heard from some Scots and Americans, and never from anyone else using the sort of terribly correct RP you associate with old BBC announcers.

I have no idea where they got it from.
posted by tomsk at 11:09 AM on June 9

There's a number of overlapping constructions between Scots and Nordic languages that, when I catch them, I can't not think of viking boats and kilts.

Before he died, my grandfather (and other family members of his generation) used to talk about, when out fishing and they landed on the east coast of Scotland, how they, but especially the Danish West-cossters, could communicate with the locals on a pidgin level in their respective dialects. There are so many nouns especially that are very similar.

(This would have been in the pre-WII and immediate post WWII era, as I recall?)
posted by Dysk at 11:19 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]

Native speaker, NE Ohio. Most of my regional speech is long gone but I hang on to this one. You just elide the verb 'to be'; e.g. "that tire needs [to be] replaced". That seems far less awkward than the weird gerund form "that tire needs replacing".
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:21 PM on June 9

Also I put some of my thoughts on the construction in that prior AskMe thread. Although not everybody agrees, to me the semantics of the verb seem important.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:28 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]

Surprised by the amount of purple on that map; I genuinely thought this was a Pennsylvania-only thing.
I'd like to see a similar map for the use of "yet" to mean "still" as well as "already", i.e., "He's got to mow the lawn yet" instead of the more standard "He still has to mow the lawn".
posted by nanny's striped stocking at 12:51 AM on June 10

I have yet to see such a map.
posted by flabdablet at 1:22 AM on June 10

As a transplant to Ohio from California, I HATE THIS CONSTRUCTION SO MUCH, and yet my daughter, who has lived in Ohio since the age of two, regularly uses it, and I love her very much. I'm struggling to accept this as part of her identity.
posted by jscalzi at 4:46 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]

Born in a Chicago suburb, raised mostly in central Indiana. I am very familiar with this construction though I do not use it. Thankfully it isn't endemic here in Southwestern Ohio and my children never got infected.

My husband's family moved to central Indiana from upstate New York decades ago and when they start poking fun at "needs washed" I get defensive for my home state and start in on them about "pitchers that hang on the wall." Fair's fair.
posted by cooker girl at 9:32 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

"They need to do "the fusebox is down cellar" next. It would be interesting to see the overlap.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:01 PM on June 8 [1 favorite −] [⚑] "

I have lived in NJ most of my life and have always said "down cellar", like the well-known Jerseyism "down the shore:. Never thought about it. I've never heard "needs washed". Anyone else say "down cellar"?
posted by mermayd at 7:06 AM on June 11

Youse English needs fixed
posted by SystematicAbuse at 12:59 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

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