I don’t watch Mad Men, so this article detailing the modern linguistic choices that creep into the 60’s-set show didn’t really grab me, but the chart used at the end was pretty interesting:
I’m not a linguistic expert, and using the dictionary definition of something is the Jim Belushi of speech openings, but it strikes me as worth noting that the key difference between “ought” and “need” is the moral component – if you “ought” to do something, that implies a moral duty. If you “need” to do something, it means there’s just some external or internal requirement to do so, moral or otherwise. I’m not one to decry the moral bankruptcy of America or talk about how great things were in the good old days I never saw, but I think it’s interesting when something with a clear moral dimension can be shown in such stark numerical terms.
“Ought” has definitely gone out of style – I think it’s time for a retro throwback to a useful word.