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‘Anyways,’ said the damsel

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. Pat has said on the air that she grew up in the Midwest. Did she say “anyway” or “anyways”?

A: Growing up in Iowa, Pat occasionally heard people say “anyways,” but that wasn’t the usual practice. Mostly it was “anyway.”

The 10 standard dictionaries we regularly consult label “anyways” as informal, dialectal, colloquial, or nonstandard. In other words, you wouldn’t use it when your language should be at its best.

Nevertheless, “anyways” is heard across the US, according to citations in the Dictionary of American Regional English, which notes that it first showed up in English in the early 13th century and was in standard literary use into the early 19th century.

In fact, the term was originally spelled with an “s” (actually two of them) when it appeared in Middle English in the early 13th century, meaning “in any manner” or “by any means,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED’s first citation (with “anyways” spelled “eanies-weis”) is from a manuscript about the legendary life of St. Margaret the Maiden and Martyr:

“Ȝef ich mahte eanies-weis makien ham to fallen” (“if I might in any-ways make them fall”). From Seinte Marherete þe Meiden ant Martyr, edited in 1934 by Frances May Mack for the Early English Text Society.

The usage was standard for centuries, as in this expanded citation from the Anglican Communion’s 1662 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.”

Today, however, the OED describes this use of “anyways” for “anyway” as colloquial and chiefly North American.

Similarly, the dictionary says the use of “anyways” as a sentence adverb (one that modifies an entire sentence or clause) is colloquial and chiefly North American, though the earliest two Oxford examples are from British sources.

The OED cites this example from the 1865 Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend: “ ‘Anyways,’ said the damsel, ‘I am glad punishment followed, and I say so.’ ” We’ve expanded the citation, one of five appearances of “anyways” in the book.

Would we use “anyways”? No way.

[Note: This post was updated on June 24, 2020.]

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