Thursday, March 15, 2007

'Anymore' confused with 'now'

That's the headline of Word Court from last night. Sigh. "Anymore gas is expensive" is "not good-quality standard English", we learn, not "truly correct". And we get a paragraph on writing it as two words versus one. Otherwise, Barbara Wallraff just makes the basic point about traditional anymore as a negative-polarity item, in contrast to what linguists call 'positive anymore'. (For what it's worth, the positive meaning is usually described as 'these days' or 'nowadays' — 'now' doesn't quite work for me.)

What a shame, what missed opportunities:
  • No mention of how just plain famous this feature is: The first discussion of it in American Speech dates to 1931, with a string of article there and elsewhere since and tons of discussions all over the place. There's even a blog called Positive Anymore, although it may no longer be active.
  • Nor anything on its regional distribution (more or less lower midlands feature) and its current (I gather pretty rapid) spread beyond that.
  • No reference to its move to sentence-initial position for many speakers — Anymore we stay home and watch TV.
  • No mention of the perceptions of the term — I think it was in Youmans' 1986 American Speech article on it that Missouri speakers said that positive anymore sounded like 'somebody who was drunk' or 'a Hoosier' talking. And he reported other speakers with my initial reaction to it: Simply not understanding what it meant.
  • Nothing on its history — surely few readers know that it's British and American.
Here's a perfect case where somebody's 'grammar question could have opened a door to tons of interesting information about language. But it didn't.

And for the record, DARE shows it as widespread among college-educated speakers, even back when their data was (no, not were) collected.

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