I was watching and episode of “Legends of Tomorrow”. One character is a fairy godmother and is accompanied by a child. “She is here until we determine her deepest need” she explains.
I thought that fairy godmothers dealt in wishes, or desires, not needs!
Unfortunately, this is a language pattern that I have encountered frequently in the past few years. People tell me they need something rather that that they would like it or want it.
It is shoddy vocabulary, but does it matter? Yes, it does, since a significant proportion of these people clearly have trouble differentiating between their desires and what they may actually have. And when they do not get what they believe they are entitled to, that generally is unpleasant for those around them.
Some readers will be familiar with “E-Prime”, writing without using the verb “to be”. E-prime may be useful in encouraging a greater variety of copulas used, and in creating more accurate statements. Rather than saying “Jon is disgusting” one might say “I dislike Jon’s treatment of his girlfriend”.
It occurred to me that a similar strategy might be applied to the use of modal verbs in English. I will call this “Can-Prime”, since “can” is one of the most misused of verbs. Eliminate “can” from your writing. Replace it with “able” or other suitable verbs. Commonly people use can/ could when they actually mean may/ might. Use of other modal verbs should also be practised. Do not use “need” unless the requirement is truly a necessity.