Mighty Red Pen

November 12, 2007

O, to be, to be, wherefore art thou, to be?

Filed under: Grammar goddess — mighty red pen @ 9:02 pm

If you know anyone from the Pittsburgh area who routinely drops the words “to be” from their speech — as in this grammatical conundrum needs clarified — you might find this article from Jan Freeman illuminating.

She does, however, reach this interesting conclusion:

But much as we hate to hear it, said Zwicky, there are lots of usage features whose existence we simply can’t explain. When Pittsburgher Jim Heinrich says of his native needs washed, “I don’t understand why it would be so horrendous,” the answer is simple: It wouldn’t be horrendous if more of us happened to use it.

I can tell you it’s distracting for an editor when your production coordinator routinely sends e-mails that say, “This needs edited.” But then, these words of wisdom:

So if you think Pittsburgh’s grammar needs corrected, consider the alternative: Maybe the majority’s attitude needs adjusted.



  1. hmmm Correct grammar usage vs an attitude adjustment. Tough choice, that.

    Comment by Blue — November 13, 2007 @ 9:10 am | Reply

  2. Having spent 5 years of my life in Newcastle UK, I can report that the same odd formation is common in the Geordie dialect (Geordies are people from Newcastle).

    Common examples include, “do you want smacked?”, “me car needs washed” and “that f—ing referee wants shot”.

    Lovely people though, on the whole.

    P.S. I don’t understand the Eighties reference in the comment you left on our blog. If it was early Eighties I’m probably too young. I often have that problem.

    Comment by Gez — November 13, 2007 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

  3. There is a huge population of transplants from Ohio in Southwest Florida, and they all drop the “to be.” It’s spreading!

    Comment by Beth — November 13, 2007 @ 5:20 pm | Reply

  4. When I used to work in radio in central PA, this was my hugest gripe about my fellow DJs–that they frequently omitted “to be” from their speech. Then when they realized how much it irked me, they started NEVER using the phrase “to be” when they spoke. Apparently non-grammarphiles just love to tease grammarphiles with absolutely awful-sounding speech. Looking back, it’s kinda amusing to remember how much they tormented me with their bumpkin dialect, but also I remember how I was perpetually gritting my teeth whenever any of them opened their mouths.

    Comment by Nikki — November 13, 2007 @ 11:12 pm | Reply

  5. My PA peeps, represent! I have stared grammar regionalism in the eyes and not flinched or backed down…I have left “to be” behind and I feel so liberated. Join the revolution! (Seriously, like the article says, in time, it will sound so right that it can’t be wrong.)

    Comment by Frida's Big Gay Day — November 14, 2007 @ 9:51 pm | Reply

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