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Geoffrey H. Goodwin -- I Can See in the Dark

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Needs must? [Jul. 1st, 2018|08:48 am]
Geoffrey H. Goodwin -- I Can See in the Dark
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Would any fiction writer I know find good use in the expression "needs must," as in, "Well, if needs must then we'll do that horrid thing we don't want to do..."?


Thinking it over, I guess I could only use it in dialogue from a retro character, a period piece (which I barely do), poetry (where I'd stand by it because of Percy Bysshe Shelley), or a work where the tone was just generally weird in that direction and I got significant oomph out of the phrasing.

Seems like "Necessity compels" would be my go-to if I wanted that retro archaism vibe because I think "needs must" looks like a typo to more people than there are people who still actively know the idiom or expression on the tip of their brain. [But lots of people I know will know it...which is why I'm considering hypothetical contemporary usage.]

And I guess that's the heart of it to me. If it's an old phrase that has become unusual, then I say it can live on as an idiom because my linguistic sense is that use was once widespread enough that it can just be said as an expression we no longer understand. We can quote P. B. Shelley for no good reason; it's allowed, except when it's confusing. When someone says, "will-o-wisp" or "jack-o-lantern," those words aren't presented as contemporary grammatical constructions or even as nouns a person can always explain, and not everyone who can read or speak English will know those words {Q: "Why do you call it that?" A: "I don't know, but that's what people say."}, but they live on sort of like idioms, where I wouldn't want to remake an old expression and pretend it abides by new rules [which leads to a whole lot of thoughts about backward construction leading to neologisms, but that's another day if ever], but I'd be willing to use an old, weird expression because people should honor it as a surviving idiom because of P. B. Shelley.

We all say stuff we don't understand because we've heard it a lot (okay, fine, I know people who don't, but they're rare) and I'd consider "needs must" as too dated to function as just an expression that still fits today's use of language for most fictive purposes, but I'd consider possibly sneaking "needs must" in as a weird idiom people keep saying without it needing to feel linguistically contemporary.

I guess it would have to be one of those nonsensical uses where the gravity of the tone gets wrecked, where one of the only uses I could really defend in contemporary fiction would be as a gag, like, "Your mother might come. If needs must, we'll use actual plates. If needs must, we'll break out the tiles and play Scrabble. Otherwise, if things aren't as dire, we should be in for a good night with Kimmy Schimdt..."
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: buymeaclue
2018-07-06 01:52 am (UTC)
I, uh, have definitely used "needs must" in casual conversation.

Not often. But definitely more than once.
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[User Picture]From: readingthedark
2018-07-06 03:40 am (UTC)
Oh how I bet you have. I even would've been sad if you hadn't... <3
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