Chunk of the day: Needs must

After class yesterday, I popped out to grab a bite to eat from one of the little cafés near where I live. As I was walking back, I bumped into an old friend of mine who I hadn’t seen for ages. We got talking and she told me that after ten years here in London she was planning to move back to Spain – she’s originally from Madrid. Now, I know that Carmen has spent years working in the botany department of the Natural History Museum here, and as it’s quite a niche job, I asked if she would be able to find something similar back home.

She’d applied to a few places, she told me, but as a precaution she’d also recently done a CELTA – an initial teaching qualification – so that she could try to find work as an English language teacher somewhere if she had to. She speaks amazing English, I hasten to add! I laughed and said that if I can teach, then anyone can (English humour alert!). She then added that as she’s a single parent with two little ones to support, she was basically willing to do whatever job she could get – even cabbing – driving a taxi cab. “Needs must” she explained. (I told you she spoke incredible English!)

We often use needs must to explain why we’re doing something and to show it’s not because we really want to, but because we don’t feel we have much choice about the matter, so I might explain that I’d much rather not have to get up at the crack of dawn on Saturday, but because my flight to Berlin is at 7am, needs must! In other words, I don’t want to, but I know I have to. Here are some other examples:

I hate reading on the bus. It makes me feel sick. But I have so much to get through that needs must.

I started cooking quite late in life and my motivation for learning was really on a more needs-must basis.

I’ll admit that we didn’t play attractive football, but hey – against a bigger, better club, needs must!

Nobody likes going out when it’s freezing cold outside, but if you’re serious about running, needs must.

JOGGER IN GREEN PARK

Interestingly, the phrase goes back hundreds of years, but in the old days, people often used a longer version, needs must when the devil drives. This has fallen from favour and only the short form is generally heard these days, yet another example of the way in which many English words with religious roots no longer have the power they once had.

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  • Can you think of things you’d much rather not have to do, but hey – needs must?
  • When did you last bump into an old friend you’d not seen for ages? What did you talk about?
  • Can you think of any other niche jobs?
  • Are there any jobs you’re simply not willing to do? Why?
  • Can you think of any other things that have fallen from favour over the years?
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