“Look, the bill needs fixed”

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich grew up in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, just down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, and has retained many dialect features from the Pittsburgh region. Notably, Kasich, like others from the area, would say “The car needs washed” rather than “The car needs to be washed” or “The car needs washing.” (The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project calls this the “needs washed” construction; it’s also been called the “need + V-en” construction.) Last year, Kasich demonstrated this feature in a Republican presidential debate, when he said “The country needs healed.” On Sunday, Kasich gave us another example of the construction on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Discussing the healthcare legislation proposed by congressional Republicans, Kasich told Chuck Todd, “Look, the bill needs fixed” (at 1:35 in the video).


Interestingly, Kasich is not consistent in his usage. Just 30 seconds later, he says, “But what I would tell you is the exchange needs to be fixed.” Perhaps he caught himself saying “needs fixed” and then went with the more standard version the second time around. It’s a dialect feature that he may be self-conscious about using when addressing a national audience, especially after the fuss made over “The country needs healed” last year.

It’s clear, though, that the construction continues to puzzle those from outside of the Pittsburgh dialect region (or elsewhere it might be used, such as among Scottish speakers). NBC’s official transcript of the Kasich interview gets it wrong, rendering “The bill needs fixed” as “The bill needs fix.” Perhaps the transcriber thought that Kasich meant to say “The bill needs a fix” but left out the “a” — akin to Neil Armstrong saying “That’s one small step for man” instead of “…a man.” But this is just a regionalism that doesn’t need fixed. (For more, see “Annals of ‘needs washed’,” Sept. 9, 2011.)



51 Comments

  1. Liz Woodbury said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

    My husband does this (to my annoyance), but he was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas.

  2. Laura Morland said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

    My husband does this, too (although annoyance has changed to amusement, in my case), and he grew up in Wooster, Ohio, 55 miles south of Columbus. I understand that western PA and northeastern Ohio share many aspects of culture, including presumably this linguistic tic.

    FWIW, he also says “acrost” for “across,” and “fift” and “sixt” instead of “fifth” and “sixth”. His sons and I thought it was an idiolect until we finally visited his hometown!

  3. Crary said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:45 pm

    I grew up (and currently live) in southern central New York state, right along the Pennsylvania border. I heard this usage growing up, but it always sounded somewhat alien to me–though other western Pennsylvania usages (like “to red up”) were common. What fascinates me these days is that I married a lovely woman from Calgary, Alberta — and I hear this construction there regularly. “The car needs washed” particularly sticks out. How this phrasing hits non-contiguous locales I do not know!

  4. Derek said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:53 pm

    We all need to learn how to speak Hoosier.

  5. Guy said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 5:55 pm

    To continue on a discussion that came up on the “needs healed” post, the -ing version is usually described as clausal, but for me I think it works as a deverbal noun, at least if I assume the permissible modifiers are a good guide. How do others feel about these examples?

    “The bill needs careful fixing”
    “The bill needs a careful fixing”
    “The bill needs carefully fixing”
    “The bill needs fixing carefully”.

    What about with a stranded preposition? Borrowing an example on the prior post:

    “The dog needs looking after”
    Or
    “The client needs meeting with”?

  6. David Marjanović said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

    “fift” and “sixt” instead of “fifth” and “sixth”

    Whoa! Shakespeare!

  7. Columbus said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 8:05 pm

    Students at The Ohio State University Columbus campus use this construction regularly. Locals are often baffled when it is mentioned in linguistics classes as an example of a non-standard construction. Many if not most are unaware that it is seen as non-standard in other parts of the country.
    As already noted, it’s also a common construction in Indiana.
    While the epicenter of “needs washed” may well have been Pittsburgh, it has spread far beyond there, and Governor Kasich almost certainly encounters it regularly when interacting with Ohioans here in the capital and from around the state.

  8. AntC said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 8:12 pm

    … elsewhere it might be used, such as among Scottish speakers

    It seems common in New Zealand (esp. amongst Gen Y.) I’m not sure if that’s Scottish influence — Scots settled particularly in Southern NZ, which gives rise to the only noticable dialect differences not attributable to Maori — or a yoof thing.

  9. Jan Freeman said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 8:21 pm

    Laura Morland, I always enjoy seeing your name and always wonder (thanks to Angela Thirkell) if it’s real. But I have to note that Wooster, Ohio, is northeast of Columbus, not south.

  10. Rebecca said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 8:27 pm

    One thing I find interesting in this is a Twitter comment in the “needs heeled” post to the effect that school teachers don’t know the construction is “wrong”.

    I say this as a positive-anymore speaker, who didn’t realize that that wasn’t standard until I screwed up a fellow-student’s negative polarity data in grad school. Grade school had lots of admonitions against stuff that wasn’t in my grammar (ain’t, etc), but no one ever mentioned positive anymore. And it’s not the kind of thing one is likely to pick up by reading/hearing standard English since you can’t pick up on it being ungrammatical by the fact that any given utterance doesn’t use it.

    So, I’ve been curious since then, what other non-standard regionalisms go undetected, uncorrected, because they are not at all stigmatized within the region? I wonder if it’s true that “needs fixed” isn’t addressed in the schools.

    I, at least, would be interested in the Yale project annotating whether the regionalisms they cite are stigmatized within the region enough to, say, be taught in the schools or avoided locally in formal writing (eg newspaper journalism)

  11. Mara K said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 10:12 pm

    I first heard this construction in high school in rural Illinois, and was surprised to keep hearing it when I moved to Pittsburgh for undergrad. There’s like a corridor of it.

  12. tangent said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 10:58 pm

    (*?)The country needs redded up.
    Can you do that? My sense is no.

    Another Western PA lexicon entry of current relevance: jagoff.

  13. Elisha said,

    March 13, 2017 @ 11:10 pm

    I’ve been a copy editor for many years and I have to admit it never occurred to me that this construction is non-standard, let alone “incorrect.” (Less formal, sure—if I saw it in the legislative text I work on I’d reword it.)

    That is probably because I grew up speaking that way … in southeast Idaho.

  14. John said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 3:52 am

    Aren’t they just skipping a “to be”?

    Or the “to be” has been said mroe and more quickly over generations that eventually it has become internalized as not required:

    “needs to be healed” > “needs’a b’healed” > “needs healed”

    Another practice which annoys me is when people skip pronouns following a “with”, e.g. “She said he could come with us” becomes “She said he could come with”.

  15. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 5:02 am

    I alternate ‘needs washed’ and ‘needs to be washed’ (especially if I’m being careful), but ‘needs washing’ is borderline ungrammatical for me – not *wrong*, but definitely an English regionalism – and writing it makes my brain itch!

  16. Nick Barnes said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 5:13 am

    Lived in Pittsburgh for 2 years in the early 90s (my early 20s) and picked this up; I still find myself using it sometimes (in Cambridge, England).

  17. Hans Adler said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 5:58 am

    As a German speaker, I was exposed to this construction in internal discussions on the English Wikipedia, when I was still active there. It was used so much that I actually went from being really annoyed by it to getting used to it and maybe even using it myself occasionally. Much later, based on this experience I was quite surprised to learn that it’s a regional phenomenon rather than a more general feature of modern American English.

  18. Ralph Hickok said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 6:53 am

    I know a woman who spent most of her life in and around Seattle who uses this construction.

  19. Amy Whitson said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 7:29 am

    The post says, “Interestingly, Kasich is not consistent in his usage. Just 30 seconds later, he says, ‘But what I would tell you is the exchange needs to be fixed.'” Is this inconsistent? Do most users of “need + V-en” not have other constructions available? I am one of the users of this construction who didn’t know it was non-standard until reading a blog post here. I definitely also have the “needs to be” construction available to me (although I don’t think I’ve ever used “needs V-ing”).

  20. Susan said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 7:55 am

    Well, this shows Kasich’s lack of intelligence and makes the Republican party look bad. Not that the use of the construction means he is unintelligent, but that he chose to use it when talking to a national audience. He should have shifted to Standard American English instead of his regional dialect. How did he ever become governor?

    Reminds me of that thread about five years ago that Mark posted here about some aged politician or lobbyist saying “You want knuckle sandwich”? [Does anyone know where that is, by the way? I did a search here, but couldn’t find it. The video was hilarious.]

  21. Grover Jones said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 8:03 am

    @Amy Whitson
    I actually wonder if he threw in the “to be” the second time for rhythm. It seems to be a cadence-related choice.

  22. Crary said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 8:32 am

    @tangent — as I mentioned above, I grew up with “red up,” and to a lesser degree the “needs washed” formulation. For me, “the room needs redded up” sounds perfectly fine — in fact, probably better than “the room needs to be redded up.” That being said, it’s probably fair to call me a jagoff, so take it as you will!

  23. Michael Leddy said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 9:11 am

    Living in downstate Illinois for more than thirty years, I’ve heard and seen this construction countless times. Sign on a stock cart in a store: “Items need worked.” Ad in the newspaper: “Does your TV need rescued?” It’s my favorite regionalism. Positive anymore is a close second. I’m still a stranger in a strange land, amid the alien corn.

  24. Robert Coren said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 9:21 am

    Having spent some parts of my earlier life in the company of Pittsburghers (I myself being a native New Yorker but spending my whole adult life near Boston), I feel the need to point out that to convey the true flavor of the characterizing name for the construction, one needs to write needs warshed.

  25. Chas Belov said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 11:02 am

    As a proud Pittsburgher here, “The bill needs fixed,” sounds fine to me, and I occasionally use it despite being long gone from there.

    @Rebecca: I’m not familiar with the positive anymore usage, but, in a similar opportunity for confusion, I find that Chinese ESL speakers use “already” (additionally to standard English) when a requested thing is done now but wasn’t even started when the request was made. Correct in Cantonese, incorrect (and therefore confusing) in English.

  26. Danielle said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 11:42 am

    I spent 7 years in southern central PA (York/Lancaster) and this formation was common there, too. I always just assumed it was Pennsylvanian Dutch in origin so it’s interesting to learn that it is common in Western PA, as well. Is it possibly related to a concentration of German immigrants in general, and not specifically the Amish?

  27. empty said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 12:44 pm

    @John: “come with” without an object is present in some dialects of English. I don’t know whether any of these same dialects do anything similar with other prepositions. I wonder if this use of “with” comes from German immigrant communities (in German “mit” does not always require an object) and/or from Yiddish.

  28. Victor Mair said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 1:03 pm

    I grew up in Osnaburg Township, about halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Wooster, about 30 miles directly west on Route 30, and Hartville, about 12 miles to the north, had plenty of horse and buggy Amish, and there were lots of them to the south, toward Columbus, as well. An expression like “the bill needs fixed” would not have raised an eyebrow among the people who lived in that area.

  29. Veronica said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 3:52 pm

    I live north of Pittsburgh, where “needs washed” and all its kin (needs cut/cleaned/sorted) are so common I hardly even notice them. The regionalism that is striking me these days is the use of “whenever” when talking about some specific incident in the past. For example: “Whenever I got married, my aunt gave me a blender” or “Whenever my dad died, I saw my cousin for the first time in twenty years.”

  30. Bartleby said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

    The bill needs defeated.

  31. Forrest said,

    March 14, 2017 @ 6:54 pm

    I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, and both of my parents, and indeed all my relatives, were from the area. I never realized how distinctive our regional speech was until I went to college in Minnesota and people asked me, evidently based on my speech patterns, what my native language was.

    In addition to the “needs fixed” construction, at least in my own dialect, there’s “want” plus past participle and “could use” plus past participle, as in (shouting at the kids) “do you want spanked?!” and “the grass could use cut”.

    Since virtually all of our school teachers were from the same area, I never heard that there was anything at all unusual about such constructions. Our grammar teachers tried mightily to stamp out “ain’t” and “yunz”, but they as well evidently found constructions like the above (to be?) completely normal.

  32. Dave O said,

    March 15, 2017 @ 8:29 am

    I was first exposed to the “needs (x)ed” thanks to some Pennsylvania-bred folks I met online. I was a bit surprised when a co-worker from New Brunswick used it! Not sure how common it is in NB, but there are some out there using it!

  33. BZ said,

    March 15, 2017 @ 8:51 am

    Re: “Come With”, I (immigrant from Russia, NJ resident for 26 years) find this unremarkable and would use it myself. I would say it’s not formal, but then it would generally only come up in dialog where formality is rare.

  34. KevinM said,

    March 15, 2017 @ 10:58 am

    When a phrase has passed into common usage, needs must.

  35. seriously said,

    March 15, 2017 @ 3:01 pm

    I grew up in northern West Virginia, very much under the influence of Pittsburgh (also had a number of relatives there.) After an Ivy League education, both undergraduate and grad school, many years working in DC, more years working in NYC, and 25 years living and working in New Jersey, when I first saw “the car needs washed” as a topic on LL, I was totally perplexed about what was being discussed. “That’s not idiomatic, that’s what you say when the car’s dirty.” I had to read well into the article before I realized that I’m kind of a yinzer after all.

  36. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    March 15, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

    I first found out that the “redd” in “redd up” has two Ds when I looked it up in a dictionary to prove to my future wife that it’s a real word. Unlike some of the commenters here, though, I have redd for all three principal parts: “I will redd up my room tomorrow.” “I redd up my room yesterday.” “I’ve already redd up my room.”

    I grew up in Ohio and Connecticut by my parents are both from Pennsylvania.

  37. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    March 15, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

    s/by my parents/but my parents

  38. Louis said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 12:18 am

    John:
    Another practice which annoys me is when people skip pronouns following a “with”, e.g. “She said he could come with us” becomes “She said he could come with”.

    What annoys me is people on the internet increasingly treating English like it’s a pro-drop language. Lately I’ve been seeing more and more comments like, “Love this!”. Who loves this?!?! I, you, we, you guys or they? You can get away with that in Spanish, Italian, etc., where you have a different conjugation for every person, but not in English. Pronouns are very important in our language. The sooner people stop doing this, the better.

  39. Louis said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 12:21 am

    P.S. See Nick Barnes’ comment above.

  40. Whenever I Was a Teacher... said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 12:53 am

    Veronica:

    The regionalism that is striking me these days is the use of “whenever” when talking about some specific incident in the past. For example: “Whenever I got married, my aunt gave me a blender” or “Whenever my dad died, I saw my cousin for the first time in twenty years.”

    That one is common down here in the Carolinas and Georgia. Even some college-educated people use it. My journalism teacher in high school had almost no trace of a Southern accent, but he used that construction very frequently. I think it sounds weird. In your second example, it makes it sound like the person’s dad died many times.

  41. Rodger C said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 11:17 am

    @Louis: East Asian languages, as a rule, are pro-drop and have no conjugations. Seem to understand each other.

  42. Louis said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 1:15 pm

    @ Rodger: So…we should try to make English into something it isn’t (an East Asian language)? Why get rid of the useful distinctions we have in our language? There’s a pronoun missing in your comment BTW.

  43. Isaac D said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 2:19 pm

    I have always referred to the “need + V-en” construction as a “Pittsburgh infinitive”, and while I believe it did originate in Pittsburgh and is still ubiquitous there, it has spread far and wide across the US and seems to be gaining traction in a wide variety of dialects. I have heard people use it everywhere from Nebraska to New Jersey, and only a few of them have ever lived in Western PA.
    I currently live in Lancaster County, PA and while it isn’t as common here as in Allegheny County, it’s still common enough that very few people would find it odd.

  44. Isaac D said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 2:25 pm

    @Susan
    I can’t tell if you are joking or not, but the use of non-standard dialects by Republican politicians has been commonplace since Eisenhower if not earlier.
    In many cases you can see a candidate’s dialect becoming less and less standard over the course of a political career (compare George W. Bush as governor of Texas vs. as POTUS).
    While it does evoke an “unintelligent yokel” prejudice among the the urban populations of both coasts, that particular demographic is unlikely to ever vote for a Republican candidate and even less likely to be a swing voter. Among the majority of potential Republican voters, the use of regionalisms has a net positive effect.

  45. Guy said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 4:28 pm

    @Louis

    I’m pretty sure it’s been normal spoken English for subjects to be dropped in certain limited contexts for longer than whatever recency you are perceiving.

  46. Louis said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 8:20 pm

    @ Guy:

    I’ll start by writing that I didn’t come here just to pick on Rodger, Nick Barnes or anyone else. That’s not my idea of fun. I just don’t understand how anyone, especially a native speaker of English, could seriously think, “Seem to understand each other.” is a grammatical sentence in written or spoken English. It just sounds so weird. I’m sure my English teachers would’ve corrected that when I was in school. There has to be a pronoun at the beginning of that sentence. Unless Rodger was just trying to annoy me, which he probably was. I’ve been seeing things like that on the internet more and more frequently lately. I understand that there are different levels of formality in any language, but still: if your reader or interlocutor doesn’t know who you’re talking about, that goes beyond informal and into incorrect territory. If what Rodger says about East Asian languages is true, I think East Asians must be perpetually confused. I like not having to constantly ask my interlocutor for clarification.

  47. Guy said,

    March 16, 2017 @ 11:57 pm

    @Louis

    “if your reader or interlocutor doesn’t know who you’re talking about, that goes beyond informal and into incorrect territory.”

    That can’t be the test. It’s easy to give unintelligible but perfectly grammatical sentences, as well as unquestionably ungrammatical sentences that are perfectly understandable. But aside from that there are contexts where a lack of a subject is fully standard. Just to pick an example I heard recently, “makes sense” as a full utterance in response to an explanation. Or to take a well-established phrase, “coming through!”. Or, say, “see you later”.

    In any case, I don’t see what interpretability has to do with your specific complaints. The three examples you’ve cited in this thread are perfectly clear in their intended meanings.

  48. Guy said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 12:01 am

    By the way, I think Rodger was poking fun with his sentence, because, despite the meaning being clear, I perceive the lack of subject in that context as not being the situation where a lack of subject is particularly likely in English. So it was probably motivated by a desire to be self-referential. The other two examples you complained about do seem normal in English.

  49. Louis said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 12:39 am

    @ Guy:

    Meh. I’ll just have to be content with having normal people on my side. Good luck with all of that though.

  50. Louis said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

    P.S. Clearly mansplaining isn’t something that only happens to women. Feminists like to pretend like it is, but clearly that isn’t the case. But unlike women, I don’t get a special movement to help me. I just have to deal with it myself. But I have better things to do right now, like celebrating St. Patrick’s Day even though I’m neither Irish nor Catholic.

  51. Bathrobe said,

    March 17, 2017 @ 9:24 pm

    Dropping pronouns seems to me to be perfectly normal in spoken English.

    ‘Dunno’ is highly informal but very common as an abbreviation for ‘I don’t know’. ‘Wouldn’t really know’ is less informal but seems just as common. Just like other expressions like ‘Couldn’t say’, ‘Haven’t got the foggiest’, ‘Took ages to get there’, ‘Like a chocolate?’, ‘Want a cookie?’, ‘Got any bread? (verb also missing)’, ‘Just getting by (verb also missing)’, and many others. I’m not sure why this is an issue. Sounds like a peeve to me.

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