The Needful

matthew's picture
2010-07-12-The_Needful

There it is again. Lurking in my email inbox like a tiger hunting its prey. Giggling at me behind the veil of gentility, mocking me. Smirking at me during meetings, provoking me unintentionally with both its ubiquitousness and fundamental inaccuracy. I know I should ignore it, yet I cannot. It draws me like a moth to a flame, like Homer Simpson to a caramel bologna sandwich. It's compelling, and yet... so, so wrong.

The Needful.

"File system /db0a1 is 98% full. Please do the needful."

"Yes, will you please do the needful to fix this?"

"The needful is to overwrite the existing files with..."

Yes, those two little words. The. Needful. The word "The", by itself, is innocuous! One of the most common words in the English language. "Needful", too, by itself has nothing wrong with it. It is an adjective, a part of speech used to describe a given thing as necessary, or required. Put it together with a noun, such as "thing", or "actions", or, well, really, any noun you wish; it is innocuous and descriptive. "The Needful Thing". Just the kind of word a proper adjective should be.

And yet today, particularly in corporate technology cultures dominated by non-native speakers, it is a phrase that has acquired life of its own, devoid of the noun it was supposed to support. It's as if, somewhere along the line, "The" and "Needful" just chucked the noun out of the stationwagon at fifty miles and hour, shouted "So long, sucker!" in unison, and left it in the dust at the side of the road near Silicon Valley as they sped up to match the flow of traffic along highway 101. I think they probably whipped out a handgun and peppered a few cars with bullets in their new-found catalystic freedom. Teenagers, you know. What can you do about their youthful exuberance?

So The and Needful together decided that they were a noun, with all the rights and privileges thereof, and found a fertile breeding ground for this point of view in the lexicon of technical workers. And in so doing, they continually irritate language purists everywhere. I include myself in that distinguished and geriatric association, despite my frequent and painful abuses of the language.

Every time I see these emails in my inbox, my brain automatically substitutes the word "thing" after "the needful", with another person-shaped rubber stamp used on a stray neuron to up the counter of times I've seen that particular phrase.

Yet when I hear or read the phrase "The Needful", in absence of a noun, a part of me wants to whip out my patent-pending Foam-Rubber Clue-Bat of Righteousness and whack the user over the head repeatedly, while shouting "Where is the noun, man, where is he? Just chucked him out of the car, did you, without a second thought for his safety? You will pay for your treachery!"

I suspect my incarceration would be swift even if short, and I would be introduced to more abuses of language than my ears care to hear. Alas, the Clue-Bat should remain safely hidden in the upstairs closet next to my 1988 Mako-branded generic electric guitar purchased at Victor Litz Music near Lakeforest Mall for $75.00. There among the dusty belongings The Bat cries out to be used, vigilante-style, against this violation of the language. But in this age of litigiousness, it is better to simply pull it out late at night, the candlelight illuminating the beaded sweat on my forehead as I murmer "My Precious" and slowly thwack the hefty Clue-Bat against my damp left palm.

"The Needful". Ugh.

What is to be done?

EDIT by matthew: OK, obviously I need to explain what this essay is about. Dangit. Anyway, in the technical field you get a lot of "jargon". The latest jargon, predominantly in use by non-native-speakers, seems to be using the phrase "Please do the needful" instead of "Please take care of this", "Please help resolve this problem", or the more mundane "Dude, it's broken, fix it". I guess I assumed it was more widespread than it actually is, or that more people have experience working with non-native-English-speakers in technical fields who tend to use shortcuts when they talk. Hope that explains it a little.

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Not Only

We must prepone reading this article, review it thrice and then do the needful. :D

I just searched Google for

I just searched Google for this phrase to see if I was the only person who was completely annoyed by it. Glad to see that I am not crazy. It is such an obnoxious way to request something from someone. As if the "needfull" exists out there some where, and I am letting it hang out to dry.

Thanks.

The Needful Revisited

Your post on "the needful" had me in stitches. As much as I like to abuse the English language verbally or in writing, at least I KNOW proper grammar, vocabulary, and how to construct/deconstruct a sentence. Every time I see "the needful" I cringe. I don't know whether to laugh or not. It's useless to try and correct the person who said it. They honestly don't realize that they've butchered the language. It means something to them; sure I can figure out what they mean, but it annoys me. Not so much that it's wrong or that they don't realize it's wrong, but more because if corrected, they just don't care.

It's like Guinness w/o Head, Pizza w/o Cheese, A Movie w/o Popcorn, or even Bangkok w/o STD infested hookers and transvestites. I mean...really.....who wants that!

The needful

It makes me want to kill every time I see it. You're not the only one. Hooray for outsourcing!

Please do the needful

So, yeah, I was frustrated after getting yet another 'Please do the needful' email. I searched for the phrase and came upon your blog.

Just wanted to let you know you are not alone.

Isn't it funny how this phrase almost always follows a mistake made by the same person?

Please do the needful to kill this phrase NOW!

By the way, I'm in HR/Benefits administration, not a technical role. It is, however, only said by non-native speakers.

The Needful

I know what you mean about this phrase, "Do the needful". It bugs me too. It was so funny to me that I wrote a rap about it with music and a beat. Let me know if you want to hear it by e-mailing me at brian.brink@target.com. I can send you an .mp3 file of the song. I think you will appreciate it......although it might make your blood boil even more.
-Brian :)

Here's a nice collection of hinglish phrases

www.vdash9.com

Taken from actual tech support emails.

you need to refresh the

you need to refresh the vdash9.com site to get the next phrase.

People use this phrase in

People use this phrase in every English speaking country outside of the US. Get over it.

matthew's picture

I must...

Well, then, I should do the needful quickly! Maybe I ought to look into same asap.

(You'd think the lines about "The" and "Needful" chucking "Thing" to the curb and doing a few drive-by shootings would tip people off to the humorous intent of this op-ed. Life's too short to be too serious.)

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

Hahaha if only i had a quid

Hahaha if only i had a quid every time i was asked to do the needfull

Agree!

I work in the UK for a very large US corporation and our central helpdesk is located in Bangalore. It's always amused (yet frustrated) me to read and hear this phrase from my Indian colleagues!

paul@murphymaphia.com's picture

maybe

But since we have all the bombs you can kiss it.

--------
*This signature is an experiment in Google Bombing
mot propre

angela's picture

Who You Gonna Call?

Guess we should call the Ghostbusters. :)

Angela

Angela

I freaking hate "the needful"!!!

Man that gets on my nerves! We have (not surprisingly) a bunch of developers outsourced to India, and I get emails with that phrase. My IT Director here in Georgia started to pick it up and I had to jerk a knot in his tail. The last time I've had to come down on biz jargon with that kind of righteous furey was when we had an uncontrolled breakout of "mindshare".

Doh.

Apparently I felt the need to re-invent the spelling of "fury" as well. I apologize. :)

OMG.....

Do you mean to tell me that there are people that have never heard this phrase? And that we have to explain this to people?

Suddenly the joke became that much funnier.

Here I am..

I just wanted to answer to this thread from rather unusual perspective, I mean from an Indian's point of view. Well please be aware that my post below is in pidgin english; English happens to be my fourth language (lucky me, for some other indians it would be nth , hehe).

I have observed native english speakers and I do realize indian english very much deviates from what it is supposed to be. One of the biggest problem you will encounter while conversing with an Indian is lack of gratitude; ex: they rarely say 'thanks' in exchange of a favor (as compared to native englisher).

Actually as far as I know none of the Indian languages (whooping 1600+ languages) has any spoken word to express gratitude or thanks (The concerned words are supposed to be used in literature only and are considered offensive if used while conversing). Instead respect and gratitude in indian languages are expressed by changing the last syllable in the verb(verbs in Indian languages play an important role in sentence formation. It even denotes the gender of the subject). And the word 'thanks' is assumed by default. So for us it is rather confusing while using English and we endup using the word 'please' unusually and sometimes inappropriately. So does the phrase 'please do the needful'. Normally Indians use this to shoot-at-the-air or neutralise an offensive or pointing-at-others-mistake kinda mails. I used this several times while corresponding with my Manager to point at his crazy mistakes :-)
This word comes handy when you want to tell someone to do something which you are actually hesitating to express.

Whoa

Ha!! Finally someone else who has come across this, too.

The Needful

Ahhh, how I laughed when I read this. I have been trying to educate my newly acquired Indian colleagues as to the use of the english language but they choose to ignore me.

My other favourite is 'Please revert' (meaning 'please get back to me'). it humours me most when it follows sentences asking you to do work...so your average person is sitting there thinking "am i supposed to be rolling this back after doing it?"

Someone take the thesaurus away !

It is a proper phrase

"Do the needful" is actually a correct phrase for "do what is necessary". It is annoying in today's vernacular, but there it is actually in the New Oxford English Dictionary:

"'To do the needful, to do what is necessary in specified case.'"

You really can't fault non-english speakers for learning proper english, even if it differs from common usage patterns of native speakers. English is rife with phrases and words that defy established rules.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

I thought I was the only one

I thought I was the only one going nuts trying to figure out WHY this phrase exists. What makes them say it that way? I suppose there is a literal translation that occurs somewhere between "could you please" and "?"...You had described this 'disturbing' thing so articulately. Thank you.

Thanks :)

Thanks Matthew

That was a top read and I just thought I'd let you know that this phrase is still annoying the crap out of people, and Google is still turning this blog up for those looking for answers

Cheers

"In its defense, though,

"In its defense, though, it's actually correct English, weirdly used for the US English lexicon, and not a hijacking of an adjective into a noun. Still odd, though :)"

Eh??? Look it up, friend. Needful is not a noun. Needfulness is a noun, but not needful.

matthew's picture

Wrong context, bud...

Needful is not a noun.

You misread the context. I was referring to "please look into the same".

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

more of the same

This thread is hilarous... "do the needful" is very widespread, within corporate IT. The first time we heard talk of doing the needful, we assumed it meant to go to the restroom and relieve yourself!

We also encountered many requests for "the same" -- whatever that is.

Speaking of the "updation" of the software... it was in the dictionary!

I also got messages saying "sorry for the 'botheration'" which apparently is also a real word.

Another one that took some getting use to: How are you "today morning"? (as opposed to yesterday or tomorrow, I guess)

We are all getting Bangalored!

Here are some more good ones.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1313096,00.html

I've heard most of these during my last outsourcing.

I particularly like "today morning" in reference to "this morning"

daniel's picture

A good one to use with the missus

Last night I was reading the Matrimonials (like the Personal Ads, only for arranged marriages) here in Delhi. Here's a typical entry:

Handsome 5'8" Sikh at Fortune 500 Co. seeks homely wife, ...

Yes, homely = stay-at-home aspirations, as opposed to career aspirations. I had some fun with this with my own wife.

But come on, who doesn't like sentences like this:
"If your wife is homely, kindly tell us her good name for the updation of our contact records."

If you really want to shock your Indian friends, use either of the following words: lakh or crore (pronounced lack and croar). Lakh = 100,000 and Crore = 10,000,000. They are heavily used Hindi loan-words. So, next email, throw in a little, "Our system handled 5 lakhs messages yesterday--please do the needful," or something like that.

Please do the needful

Hi Guys:

I understand you guys have enough time to dicuss the wrong usages of English words by non-native speakers.

Nobody is the owner of any language, change is a common process in a language.

BTW, centuries back Brits were the only native speakers. So in the future there can be "Indian English" as that of "American English" now. I don't find anything wrong in that.

matthew's picture

I understand you guys have

I understand you guys have enough time to dicuss the wrong usages of English words by non-native speakers.

You're new here, aren't you? Welcome to my board. Coffee table chit-chat is the order of the day today... and pretty much every day. Imagine you're at home hanging out with some good friends and drinking some of your favorite (insert drink here).

Guess what? Pretty much EVERYBODY has time to hang out with their friends. If they don't, they are not the kind of person I'd be interested in being a friend with because they never have time to be a friend at all.

Nobody is the owner of any language, change is a common process in a language.

Yes, but I'm sure you'd agree that some changes suck and you prefer not to use them. For instance, it's common in American English to use foul language. I prefer to abstain, because I think that unless you have a specific point in mind by using an expletive, you diminish the power of that expletive. And crass references to bodily functions are kind of gross. "Please do the needful", while not crass or gross, fits comfortably in the "OMGWTFBBQ" category of strange phrases.

BTW, centuries back Brits were the only native speakers. So in the future there can be "Indian English" as that of "American English" now. I don't find anything wrong in that.

Ahh, but here's the rub: Dialects are going away. Television and the Internet are uniters of language and purpose. Can I not, then, make a case that the bizarre phrase "please do the needful" be replaced with something which adheres to the rules of grammar?

Alas, the popularity of this phrase is being expanded as a result of my blog entry, T-Shirts with the slogan on the front, and the invasion of Indian culture into the American mainstream.

Perhaps I can do the needful and be regarding this things to be an upgradation?*

--
Matthew P. Barnson

* Weird grammar intentional there, folks, get it or get lost :)

--
Matthew P. Barnson

Weird grammar intentional there..

Hi Mat:

Thanks for your reply.

"Can I not, then, make a case that the bizarre phrase "please do the needful" be replaced with something which adheres to the rules of grammar?
* Weird grammar intentional there..."

I appreciate this. I am well in line with you on that. But the whole reply chain went on blaming the non-native speakers for the "error" rather they correcting them.

I AM A NON-NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKER. Actually, I was surfing the net to find an alternate for "Please do the needful." I was happy when got some phrases in your article, but the replies suck.

Timpane's picture

Oh Great.. now I have Guilt!

I hereby take back everything I said up till now on this particular subject. Consider all of it null and void. This is my updation.

Seriously.. the deal here is that you have some pissy Americans who went to their American store to buy an American product and needed help (looking at you, Linksys) - and got someone with a thick indian accent who was unable to follow the problem as it was described.

Ex:
ME: I have the CD with the program on it, but my activation code got thrown away, and its just installation for my $300 piece of hardware. I had no idea I would need it again. I did register the product.

THE VOICE: I can send you new CD.

ME: I have the CD, I need a my old code, or a new one.

THE VOICE: You may return the item if it is in the 30 day return period.

ME: Its a year old. I never thought I'd need the code again. Can you give me a new code?

THE VOICE: Is your item not working?

ME: Correct.

THE VOICE: Install from your CD and input the code on the CD sleeve.

ME: I don't have the CD sleeve, sir.

THE VOICE: I can send you a new CD.

ME: I have the CD, sir. I need the code. I've reinstalled windows and I need the code.

THE VOICE: Since you have the CD, please insert the CD.

ME: Ok.

THE VOICE: Follow prompts.

ME: Ok. Its asking for the code.

THE VOICE: The code is on the CD sleeve.

Not kidding. I called twice more, got the samse thing until I finally got someone with a British accent (likely also Indian, but with a command of the language, a la Alexander Siddig) who immediately understood and sent me the activation code within 48 hours.

I LOVE non-native english speakers. BUT, there is some animosity for some when people have to deal on the phone or via email with people who do not effectively communicate - and I understand that some of those people ore pHD. I knew a cuban MD who had a hard time becoming an RN here because he could not effectively speak to English speaking patients, and it was a shame because he was brilliant - BUT - just like diagnosing technical problems, you have to be able to really understand the complaint, and effectively communicate the treatment.

Thus, some of the venom on this post (most of which, on both sides, is from anonymous or brand new posters. For the rest of us, this is just a silly little funny post.. and I enjoy it.)

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matthew's picture

Threads...

I appreciate this. I am well in line with you on that. But the whole reply chain went on blaming the non-native speakers for the "error" rather they correcting them.

Justin has the measure of this. If you look at who posted what, you'll see that the posts which are negative were submitted by anonymous commenters who only stopped here to say their bit and then moved on. The original article (mine) was intended to be humorous. I'd just finished a full night of resolving computer concerns for a quality-assurance team in India, and had seen the phrase "Please do the needful" no less than ten times over the course of the shift. I wanted to vent and play with some humor along the way.

Here are some common American English phrases which are analogs to "please do the needful", but do not violate grammatical rules or propriety. Note the use of "thank you" or "thanks" in these examples assume that the person will proceed with all due haste, and offers them a compliment in advance that you have faith in their abilities.

  • Thanks for your help.
  • Thank you for your attention.
  • Please keep me updated.
  • Thank you for your timely assistance.

And now for some examples of what I hear when someone says "please do the needful" to me now...

  • Hop to it, fatty!
  • Your incompetence knows no bounds.
  • I'm keeping my eye on you.
  • An idiot says what?

(Umm, and for non-native humors, the last four are supposed to be funny... though what is funny inside my head, and what is actually funny to other people, are often two very different things...)

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

Hi Justin: "...there is

Hi Justin:

"...there is some animosity for some when people have to deal on the phone or via email with people who do not effectively communicate.." I understand this. :-)

"Effective communication" is a must, irrespective of languages. I am handling "Communication Skills" Sessions for Techies. I find only 20% Techies are good in communication.

Even if you consider native English speakers, how may of them can put their thoughts into words (either writing or speaking)?? It is a skill and not everybody can get it.

"For the rest of us, this is just a silly little funny post.. and I enjoy it."

If I were not an INDIAN, I would have enjoyed it like you.

Hi Matt:

Thank you very much for the phrases.

"And now for some examples of what I hear when someone says "please do the needful" to me now...

Hop to it, fatty!
Your incompetence knows no bounds.
I'm keeping my eye on you.
An idiot says what?"

I enjoy it!!

If the phrase annoys Americans, I personally will not use that phrase to Americans.

Bhuvana Mano

matthew's picture

What didn't you enjoy?

If I were not an INDIAN, I would have enjoyed it like you.

Now why didn't you enjoy the original post? I mean, the thing which starts at the very top of the page, the humorous article about "please do the needful", not the assorted 80+ inane comments from the peanut gallery. I'm interested to know if there is something about that humor piece which is specifically offensive to Indians.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

Not at all offensive to Indians

Article as such is - Not at all offensive to Indians. I meant, as a user of that phrase I couldn't enjoy it as a humor piece.

Otherwise I enjoy your posts. This is one of my fav blogs now. :-)

In needing of help, plz ;-)

Kindly find my comments below, if you feel in need of updation, plz revert back with the same.
is of utmost importance to have it completed EOD, please do the needful
:-)

I'm no native speaker either (my native language is spanish) so probably I had my own style problems, but I've been working the last 4 years with a big indian outsourcing firm, and lately, I've started to worry about being exposed too much to that kind of idiomatic style till the point I'm starting to use it when I don't want.
Because I don't know why, but I feel it annoying at least
(probably because it reminds me of my boss...hehe)

matthew's picture

I am to understand!

I am to understand you on this matter we are agreeing completely 100%! I am worrying sometimes that possible other native speakers might be being uncomfortable with idioms of my use. But I am thinking it is not so much to worry about, because we are being understood in our updation.

Viva la Indinglish! :) Too bad Engrish and Spanglish aren't college courses you can take, either...

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

Please, do the needful

Haha, I hear that all the time here! I found your page cause I was googling to see if anyone had made a t-shirt of it yet....

Do the needful

Oh, how it irritates me when I see one of these messages!
My company has a branch in India and every time I receive a message with the subject "Do the needful" I cringe because I know that I have some urgent request coming from an overseas team member.
This is usually a problem that could easily be resolved if the sender had the patience to investigate their problem; such as how to cut and paste, send an attachment, open an attachment, etc.
The phrasing "do the needful", although fragmented, seems so gentle and pleasant, however these particular team members are some of the most aggressive if they do not get the "needful" immediately. I have come to learn, at least within my company, that only those who feel that they are in a place of high standing, or feel they need to give that impression, use this request. What they really mean is "Drop what you are doing to attend to my needs."
I am not implying that all of our friends in India are in any way challenged. I work and socialize with many wonderful, creative, fun and intelligent people from India who I have thoughtful, friendly and technical exchanges with...

By the way, have you ever heard the one "I will revert to you presently"? This translates to "I will get back in touch with you soon."

matthew's picture

Couldn't be more true!

...only those who feel that they are in a place of high standing, or feel they need to give that impression, use this request. What they really mean is "Drop what you are doing to attend to my needs."

This couldn't be more true. It comes almost exclusively from managers or those who see me as below their station, now that I think about it, and almost never from those who would consider themselves my equals.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

do the needful...uuuhg... i was just a big venting jerk...sorry

I immediately feel bad that I may have given the wrong impression of my Indian friends. It was a tough day today.

Those that I spoke of in the above message are just kind of jerky, arrogant human beings who have something to prove. It is really just a grammatical phenomenon that irritated me more than usual today.
Arrogant people grow everywhere. If the truth be told; the US grows 'em like weeds...

BTW...teach peace...

do the needful

Try replying to a message with the same request of "Do the needful." It will make the sender guess whether they should have sent the message to begin with. ;)

matthew's picture

Better!

If the truth be told; the US grows 'em like weeds...

We grow Weeds here too.

Still, the original observation was valid: if you look at who uses the term the most, it is more often used in a superior-to-subordinate relationship than peer-to-peer or subordinate-to-superior. I should look through the history of service requests I've performed at my business and do some kind of study... but that would take far too much time and be far too boring to keep my interest :)

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

weed's picture

Yes We Do

And they keep growing and growing and growing!!! ;)

My $.02
Weed

My $.02
Weed

Timpane's picture

Growing..

Growing like.. umm..

Where's a good simile when you need one.

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Wow...

I work in an immigration law firm that deals mainly with computer and technology related workers and all I can say is I get no fewer than three emails a day asking me to do the needful. I feel like emailing them back and telling them I just ate a big lunch and have take a quick break to go do the needful.

matthew's picture

Locking the thread

Although I absolutely adore the long list of comments generated by this post... this comment is the ninety-ninth, which seems an appropriate place to stop.

Maybe I should make a "The Needful, Chapter Two" or something.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

--
Matthew P. Barnson

What's this "Do the Needful"

What's this "Do the Needful" campaign? I've seen banners and logos everywhere. I never had the curiosity to click any of them. I even saw T-shirts with that logo at Paramore t-Shirts. This means someone wanted that printed on their clothes. Why?