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    But Enough of My Needs.

    ten_suggestions.jpgQuote:  “I need to see some I.D.”  Figaro, speaking to a woman who stole his backpack near Lander, Wyoming.

    Figure of Speech:  the kindergarten imperative.

    When Figaro put his backpack down to visit a waterfall in the Wind River Range, a local band of pack rustlers swiped it.  Not an easy thing to do; the pack weighed 45 pounds and the altitude was a breathless 9,000 feet.  With the help of a fellow hiker, Figaro found his pack, the thief (an extremely fit 22-year-old woman), and the thief’s mother.  Not knowing what else to say, Figaro resorted to copspeak.  To his astonishment, the woman handed over her driver’s license.  Figaro turned it in to the police when he hiked out next morning.

    “How’d you get this? What did you do to her?” a detective asked him.
    “I didn’t do anything.  I said I needed to see some I.D.”

    Slate’s word maven, Ben Yagoda, refers to this increasingly popular device — “I need you to do this” in place of the simple command “Do this”  — as “the kindergarten imperative.”  It replaces the harsh old imperative mood with a request to meet one’s needs; e.g., “I need you to put down your crayons now.”  The figure is brilliantly rhetorical, he notes, because it “psychologizes directives,” turning commands into appeals to empathy.  On the down side, it wimpifies speech. Without the imperative mood, Yagoda says, “the Ten Commandments would be the Ten Suggestions.”

    Of course, when the suggestion is made by a red-faced, packless hiker, it can look a lot like a command.
    Snappy Answer:  “I don’t need more needy people.”

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    Reader Comments (6)

    Lots of people are writing in to ask whether I retrieved my pack. Yes I did, and thanks for asking. The bad news was, I had to run downtrail, dropping 3,000 feet in elevation; then had to carry my pack back up the trail to the high meadow where I camped, 5,000 feet above. Figaro muttered more than one untoward figure along the way.
    July 20, 2006 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    The idea of stealing someone's backpack has always puzzled me: in most cases, the person stealing a backpack in a remote area is going to stay on a trail, generally heading "out." But now they have a heavy backpack, so they will naturally move more slowly than the lighter and more highly motivated victim. I would imagine the success rate of such pilferage couldn't be very high, and the chances of getting brained by an enraged backpacker would be pretty good.
    July 20, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdogscratcher
    Good on yer, mate! from an Aussie friend.
    July 20, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterIdeinOz
    Why didn't you say "I need you to hand over the backpack"? And how did you walk away with her driver's license?
    October 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChris
    Well, I was wearing the backpack, having already retrieved. And I managed to walk away by...walking away.

    October 12, 2006 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    What I meant was, how did you walk away with her driver's license without her asking for it back? And, if she went to the trouble to steal the backpack, why did she abandon it shortly after?
    October 30, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterchris

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