Nate Belldegarb asked me this question:
“Okay, the british phrase “needs must” meaning that you have to do something you otherwise don’t want to, because circumstances force you.
Comes from “Must needs when the devil drives” which comes from “He must nedys go that the deuell dryves”
WHY does this phrasing make it feel like the words “need” and “must” are completely meaningless? Like, I understand the idiomatic meaning of it as it is, but looking at that sentence I cannot figure out what those words are SUPPOSED to mean, like what they meant back then. “
Great question, Nick!
Since you seem to have discovered the meaning and origin of the phrase, what you seem to need help with is parsing the syntax of the sentence.
I predict the problem is this: you look at the word “needs” and assume it is a verb form, as in “That dude needs to put a shirt on”; or a noun form as in, “But what about MY needs?”
IN FACT NO
In this instance, “needs” is a mostly archaic adverb form meaning “by necessity.” So the original statement means “He whom the devil compels [to verb] must [verb] by necessity.”
I hope that answers your question, Mark!