Monday, October 01, 2007

Kindly do the needful

In a rare passage of time a few days, when I actually lapsed into doing some work, I sent an email to a colleague that ended with my asking him to "kindly do the needful". Now, while it's not my most favourite phrase in the world... I have used it on occasion to ask someone to do something politely. I've never thought twice about it either. It came as a surprise, therefore, when I got a reply mocking 'needful' and asking if that was even a word. Now, this was from Neil - whose grammar and general command of the English language I have a lot of time for. I replied back saying that it was probably something the silly poms (Neil is one as well) passed on to us.

I was eventually bored & jobless enough at work to hit up google and was surprised to find that "kindly do the needful" was a very typically Indian phrase (Urban Dictionary calls it 'an indian term usually used in place of necessary'). What's more, it's predominantly an Indian bureaucratic term (the 7th search result was actually a good ol' Govt. of India tender notice!!!) that's been taken to heart by the Indian IT industry (first page of google results had 3/4 IT references).

For the purists, you can actually find two entries for 'needful' in dictionary.com...
- an adjective replacement for necessary
- slang; usage: They haven't the needful for a car right now

...but it doesn't seem like it's all that popular outside of India:
  • 'You must be from India. All the Indian people I know write that phrase in e-mails. No offense, but we Americans do have a good chuckle over it.'
  • As a speaker of English, it sounds to me as if you are asking me to use the toilet.
  • Americans find "Kindly do the needful." to be insulting. We read it as "Hey Dumb *** you should have already done this, so do it now". To us it assigns blame, or makes it seem as if we have overlooked/avoided something. Just ask for what you would like done and say thank you after the request.
  • 'Asking me to "kindly do the needful" could
    1) get you reported to HR
    2) get me fired or arrested if i really did that in public/at my desk.'
So yeah, I'm not using it ever again. Must end with this little gem: an anti-Indian-outsourcing T-shirt...

13 comments:

Miss Spider said...

Haha !
Very insightful !

~ Ms. Cute Pants ~ said...

HAHA....I've never heard this term until recently when I received an email from one of my Indian Uncles in Dubai. I took one look at it, scrutinized it for the word 'needful' & knew instantly this was one of those Indian phrases coined up to the N American equivalent of "I'd really appreciate it if this could be taken care of", or similar variations.

Yeah, I wouldn't use it either...

tensi said...

heh very nice.

neilp said...

wow ! I'm famous! my name in lights.

Dylan said...

Incidentally, I found myself typing the phrase a week or so ago and had to backspace my way back to the paths of normal communication.

@ms. cute pants: C'mmonnnn... use it once!

@neil: you're easily pleased aren't ya, mate? :P

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Sasuke said...

So what do you suggest as the alternative for this ?

Anonymous said...

I am an Indian, and I chuckle over this too, when my fellow Indians write this crap. Helpless, cant change the entire nation's lingo.

Anonymous said...

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