Q: I grew up in the Midwest (Chicago, Catholic school) and never added an “s” to “anyway.” I live now in New York (Manhattan) and hear “anyways” all the time. I also hear it on TV. You’ve said on the air that you grew up in the Midwest. Did you say “anyway” or “anyways.”
A: Growing up in Iowa, I occasionally heard people say “anyways” (and, for that matter, “leastways, “anywheres,” and “nowheres”). But that wasn’t the usual practice. Mostly it was “anyway,” “no way,” and so on.
“Anyways” is heard chiefly in the South and in the “South Midland” (the more southerly parts of the Midwest), according to the Dictionary of American Regional English. Iowa and the Chicago region are, for DARE’s purposes, in the “North Midland.”
But, like you, I hear “anyways” a lot in Manhattan. And for the most part, New Yorkers who say “anyways” don’t sound like transplants from the South, unless you’re talking about South Jersey.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) considers “anyways” nonstandard English, and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) calls it a dialectal usage.
Nevertheless, English speakers have been using both “anyway” and “anyways” since the 16th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In fact, the first OED citation for “anyways” (circa 1560) is slightly older than the first cite for “anyway” (1570).
The earliest appearance in print for the “s” version (written in two words) is from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer: “Finally, we commend to Thy fatherly goodness all those, who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate.”
To my surprise, the OED doesn’t raise an eyebrow over the use of “anyways” as an adverb meaning “in any way, in any respect, at all.” (That’s how it’s used in the citation above, which I expanded from the text of the Book of Common Prayer.)
However, the dictionary describes as “dial. or illiterate” the use of “anyways” as an adverbial conjunction meaning “in any case, at all events, anyhow.”
The OED cites this nonstandard example from the 1865 Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend: “Anyways,” said the damsel, “I am glad punishment followed, and I say so.” I’ve expanded the citation, one of five appearances of “anyways” in the book.
Would I use “anyways”? No way.