Thursday, October 18, 2012

31 Days: Day 18 — Just two more because I can't leave well enough alone.

Who ever thought to speak the phrase "can't leave well enough alone"? Do you ever wonder about the origins of things we say without even thinking about them? Tomorrow I'm going to try to tackle origins of several familiar phrases. You might be surprised where they come from.

But today, since I am still behind the eight ball (billiards reference), I'm going to highlight two more phrases that should not be.

I was born in Washington, DC, spent three years in California, and then finished growing up on the Jersey Shore. I can say honestly that middle-Jerseyans don't have any speech weirdisms. Youse guys comes from New York, and Joisey comes from North Jersey. I grew up grammatically sheltered. So when I went off to college in eastern Pennsylvania and started hearing different colloquialisms, it was a shocker. My friend Sharon was the first person I ever heard say that her hair "needed cut." I remember it like it was yesterday. We were sitting at the table in the dining hall drinking our after-dinner coffee (this was long before the days of Starbucks), when Sharon said with a heavy sigh, "My hair needs cut," and my grammatical world was shattered.

Since then I've heard people say "that wall needs painted" and "my car needs fixed" and all manner of other phrases that sound more awkward than a bunch of 13-year-olds at a high school dance. What is it about the word need that makes people lose their minds? I hear this non-construction mostly from Pennsylvanians.

Follow it with a noun or a group of words that acts as a noun, and you'll always be safe.

My hair needs cutting.

My hair needs to be cut.

The wall needs painting (or to be painted).

My car needs to be fixed.

Please, do your part.

Second—and I'll just go ahead and bag on Southerners here since I just got done with Yankees—who started the "might could" nonsense?

Here's what they say:

He might should have gone to college. I might could go Friday night.

This has never been an acceptable construction in any style guide anywhere on this planet. At all. Ever. Not even a little bit.

Here's what they should say:

Maybe he should have gone to college. I might be able to go Friday night.

Get the toothpick out of the corner of your mouth and speak the English of our Forefathers. You don't have to talk like an uptight Victorian, but with just a little effort, you can rise above the status of total hick.

Not that there's anything wrong with total hicks. I like total hicks. Some of my best friends etc. But knowing you are judged by what comes out of your mouth should make you want to put forth a good impression.

Go forth and speak correctly.

Be thankful ~


I live IN Jesus said...

Ugh. "Might could" makes me want suck my thumb whilst sitting in a corner!!!! I had never heard that phrase until moving to OK! :)

Anonymous said...


Thou art wise! =)

I really haven't heard many of these...I guess I'm sheltered. I do get annoyed on the rare occasions that I watch television though. Have you seen 'The Amazing Race'? You'd love the very first episode. Be prepared to cringe! =)

Kayla said...

Thank you, my dear. I now have some ammunition to use whenever "might could" is used in my presence. I have been out of town, so I am just seeing this today. I will have to take some time and get caught up on everything I missed. Hope you are feeling better!