excessive use of 'need'

Hi all,
I’m very sensitive to words, how they’re used, and in particular what they says about our values.
For quite some time now I’ve been noticing the excessive use of the word ‘need’.
It seems common these days to use it in place where: want, should, ought to, would be wise to, advise, etc. would be more honest.
It’s not uncommon for people to use words for purposes other than simply conveying information, but I find this adulteration particularly troublesome; and the reason is that it indicates a movement away from the acceptance of emotions and opinion as legitimate motivations for action or inaction; and seems to move us away from our humanity. The other reason I find it troublesome is that it’s often pure deception. Maslow would roll over in his grave.
… john

If I say, “I need to go to the bathroom”, but I could actually wait another thirty minutes before wetting my pants, does that make me dishonest and move us away from our humanity? Or is it perhaps a common and appropriate use of the word in accepted vernacular?

While I take your point, there are times “need” really means “want”, it’s usually a conversation one has with a five-year old. It’s also possible you are troubled by these instances in discussions of public policy, and we can certainly find examples there of purposeful blurring of wants and needs.

Having given you those two benefits of the doubt, your OP is a bit vague, ironically florid in its verbiage and it’s unclear why you find this issue so troubling.

Unless someone is talking about food and water you could always argue they don’t really “need” anything.

I think we need some specific examples.

Yes, of course the lines are blurry. It just seems to me that people use need often as a means of justifying what they want, rather than something they need.

Maybe not quite what you’re looking for, but whenever someone posts something they want on facebook, saying little more than “Need this”, all I can think is ‘no, you want it’ or rather ‘no, you want everyone to know that you want it’, followed by ‘the picture you posted is from a link to it at Amazon/Thinkgeek/Target, just go buy it, it’s like ten dollars’.

I also think people use the word “lie” far too casually. For example, if you ask someone what time it is and they say “It’s 10:15, wait I lied, it’s 11:15” or even if a one person said 10:15 and another chimed in saying 'she’s lying it’s 11:15".
While that doesn’t quite blur the line between lying and being mistaken/incorrect, it does take some of the punch away from the word when someone is actually lying, on purpose, with bad intent.

ETA, and the excessive, incorrect, sarcastic use of the word “literally” has changed the accepted definition such that literally literally means figuratively.

Hi Joey,
Yes, good points. I hadn’t really thought about the the ‘lie’ example.
… john

Hi Thudlow,
I think you’re request is an example of what I mean, perhaps not a good one though.I would state your request something like, “I’d like (want) specific examples.”
But to your point. When people say, "you need to … " one can usually put ’ you should …’ or 'you’d be well advised to … ’ or ‘I want you to …’ or ‘you’d better …’ or 'I’m telliing you to … ’ My point is that the word need is very often intended to add weight to the speakers argument, need being more acceptable a reason than want. Again, I see it as a means of making one’s statement more important. Most people consider ‘a need’ more acceptable than ‘a want’.
… john

This use of need makes perfect sense. The understood missing clause is “. . . in order to [fill in the blank] . . . “ where the blank could be almost anything and is situationally dependent.

I’m going to need some specific examples . . . before I can respond meaningfully.

But you’re right that the use of “need” emphasizes the wants of the person making the request.

Yes, alright.
… john

Tell that to a diabetic who “needs” exogenous insulin.

The word “want” used to mean “lack,” and as such was more-or-less a synonym for “need.” It hasn’t entirely lost that meaning, but nowadays the more common meaning is “desire.” This thread has me wondering how the meaning of “want” changed, and whether it involved the kind of “adulteration” or “deception” the OP associates with “need.”

There’s a fantasy novel by Barry Longyear called “The God Box”, about a man who is given a magic box that can give you anything; the catch is that it always gives you what you truly need*****, not what you want. The novel follows the sometimes hilarious, sometimes appalling consequences****** of this.

It’s sort of like the (ultimately) non-evil version of the Three Wishes trope.

Substitute “may i please” for “need.” If it works, use the former.

The use of “need” that I find most objectionable is when someone who is against something, say social media, says something along the lines of “Social media needs to go away”. You might want them to, but your want does not create their need.

Once again, that is a “Need in order to” construction.

“Social media needs to go away in order for people to have civil conversations again.”

You can argue that (and go for it if you want, I am using it as an example, not as something that I agree with), but “want” in that usage wouldn’t make any sense.

Am I sitting through some useless corporate training? A few years ago, it seems everyone in my company had to go through some silly training about ‘positive language.’ Don’t say, “You need to fill out this form…” Ugh, what a waste of time. I don’t deal with customers and I take delight in using the forbidden phrase of ‘No problem.’

This is the last thing I need.

Yes, it sounds like an episode of The Twilight Zone.
… john