"You want punched out?"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu May 26 03:20:25 UTC 2011

On 5/25/2011 8:56 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn<laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "You want punched out?"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> This is fairly persuasive and I like the way it generalizes to "want
> in/out", but I wonder whether it really works for the prototypical
> case that you mention below:
> This car needs [?to get] washed.
> The shelves need [?to get] dusted.
> --the "get" passive here and in other cases seem to convey some sort
> of personification.  And do you get "Your son needs punished" without
> the "to get"?  Or "I need home soon?"  I'm not a native speaker, so
> even though I know that Murray&  Simon paper I don't quite have the
> intuitions down.
> LH
> At 2:54 PM -0400 5/25/11, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>> We've discussed this construction here in the past, as y'uns know.
>> My own notion (no doubt presented previously by somebody) is that it
>> might be viewed as involving "to get" deletion rather than (or in
>> addition to) "to be" deletion.
>> Various constructions have 'optional' "to get" deletion (I realize that
>> these are not all exactly comparable grammatically, but I suppose the
>> form might have spread from the more-ordinary to the less-ordinary):
>> Ordinary (I think):
>> He needs [to get] some whiskey.
>> I want [to get] more exercise.
>> Ordinary (I think) but sometimes said to be regional:
>> The dog wants [to get] out.
>> I want [to get] in.
>> Less ordinary, dialectal/regional(?):
>> Excuse me, I need [to get] past.
>> I need [to get] out of Ohio.
>> Dialectal (Scots-Irish-Pittsburgh or whatever):
>> The car needs [to get] washed.
>> Do you want [to get] punched in the nose?
>> He just wants [to get] laid.
>> Even more restricted (I think):
>> My cat likes [to get] spanked.
>> In my own experience (of course not necessarily representative) the
>> "needs washed" construction is used very frequently in Pittsburgh
>> vicinity and less frequently in Columbus OH but is unheard[-of] in
>> Detroit or Chicago. Various persons have said that it's usual in central
>> PA and eastern OH. And of course it must occur to some extent in any
>> place to which people have moved from Pittsburgh.

I'm not a native either but after 20+ years I've found myself starting
to say these things myself.

For those who are wondering (as I would have myself before moving to
Pittsburgh area): this "need [p.part.]" construction is not (usually) a
self-conscious regionalism (as e.g. "redd up" is for at least some) or
"something quaint which a few old folks around here say". This is
absolutely everyday normal usage, and it appears routinely in
semi-formal text (e.g., serious interoffice memos) although probably not
(so much) in scholarly material for publication.

My above notion does not cover everything but I think it provides a
possible rationale for origin of the construction. I.e., it's easier
(for me) to hypothesize such "to get" elision than the alternative "to
be" elision. Not all possible generalizations seem to occur. E.g., I
have not encountered "I need home soon" (although I have encountered "I
need out more"). I have not encountered "He wishes/hopes/plans/desires
hired" or the like. I think in some such expressions (e.g., "wants
laid", "wants punched") "get" matches better, while in others (e.g.,
"wants hugged", "needs held upright") "be" matches better.

For me, "get" is broadly acceptable as a passive auxiliary, although not
always interchangeable with "be", and "The car needs to get washed"
seems natural to me, about as natural (I think) as "The car needs to be
washed". One question which might be asked is whether or not such
auxiliary "get" is historically more usual or more broadly used
(relative to "be") in Scots and/or Irish dialects by comparison with,
uh, southern English English.

"Your son needs punished" seems OK to me by local standards. I'm not
sure there would be unanimity however. Not every Pittsburgher uses or
approves of these constructions at all. Of those who routinely use "need
[p.part.]", some (not all) scoff at "like [p.part.]", according to my
small informal survey a few years ago.

I (like Herb Stahlke) grew up with such expressions as "The car needs
washing", which is different.

In response to Neal Whitman's blog, I think it is natural to include an
agent. Sure, "The car needs washed by Bob" sounds a little odd, but (to
me) so does "The car needs to be/get washed by Bob". OTOH, "This needs
checked by the boss/editor/doctor/etc." seems fine to me by local
standards and a number of examples can be Googled (<<"needs checked by">>).

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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