The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 19, 2014

To be? That is the question ... Part 1

By Cindy O. Herman
The Daily Item

— Ah, summertime in Central Pennsylvania. The sun is shining, the grass is growing, and so, finally, the lawn needs mowed. The porch needs swept, the house needs painted, and the windows need cleaned, and if nothing in all of that sounds funny to you, why, you’re my kind of people. When my friend went off to college, an English professor had his students laughing when he talked about Central Pennsylvanians saying, “The clothes need washed.” My friend hooted right along with the rest of them, and then later, in a hushed voice, told me all about it. Well, we just looked at each other.

It took a moment for the astonishing truth to sink in: We’d been saying it wrong all this time! The clothes, in fact, need “to be” washed. Who knew? To be or not to be, that is the dilemma, because sometimes you need “to be,” and sometimes you don’t. For example, do you need it when you say, “The porch needs a good scrubbing?” No, you don’t. But you do when the porch needs scrubbed. Now, where’s the sense in that? And it can get worse.

“My son’s hair needs cut,” is grammatically bad enough, but in Central Pennsylvania we’ve somehow gotten the crazy idea that hair is singular and hairs is plural, which is true enough, of course, unless you’re talking about cutting your hair. Nobody cuts one hair. But around here, just to be clear, we cut our hairs. Thus, you have: “My son’s hairs need cut.” “My hairs need washed.” And the ever-popular: “Oh, I like how you have your hairs cut. Mine need trimmed, too.”