Etymology Linguistics Usage

Why does “anymore” have a negative attitude?

Q: Why is it that statements with “anymore” are usually negative? For example, we say “No one compromises anymore” when it’s just as logical to say “Everyone insists on his own way anymore.”

A: The use of “anymore” in a positive statement is something we’ve written about before on the blog, but it’s worth a closer look.

The adverb “anymore” is generally used in four ways:

(1) In negative statements: “We don’t date anymore.”

(2) In questions: “Do you go to the opera anymore?”

(3) In conditional statements: “If you shout anymore, I’ll scream.”

(4) In positive statements that suggest the negative: “He’s too partisan to trust anymore.”

No one raises an eyebrow over these uses, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage.

But Merriam-Webster’s notes that some usage writers respond with “consternation and perplexity” when “anymore” is used in a clearly positive context like the one you cite (“Everyone insists on his own way anymore”).

M-W says this positive use of “anymore” to mean now or nowadays is dialect that’s widely heard in all regions of the US except New England.

The usage guide says it seems to be “of Midlands origin—the states where it is most common appear to be Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, and Oklahoma.”

The guide adds that it “has spread considerably to such other states as New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Minnesota, California, and Oregon.” (Pat recalls hearing it when she was growing up in Iowa.)

Although M-W describes the positive usage as “predominately a spoken feature,” it gives nine examples that have appeared in print, some as “anymore” and some as “any more.” (The usual American spelling for the adverb is “anymore.”)

Here’s a comment by Harry S. Truman that’s quoted in Plain Speaking, Merle Miller’s 1973 oral biography of the 33rd president: “It sometimes seems to me that all I do anymore is go to funerals.”

The Oxford English Dictionary describes the positive usage as “Chiefly Irish English and N. Amer. colloq.

The earliest OED citation is a Northern Ireland reference from Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary (1898): “A servant being instructed how to act, will answer ‘I will do it any more.’ ”

The Dictionary of American Regional English has US examples of the usage dating to 1931, and mentions what may be a related usage dating to 1859.

The 1931 example is a comment from West Virginia cited in the journal American Speech: “People used to shop a lot in the morning, but any more the crowd comes in about three o’clock.”

So what is the status of the usage in the US today?

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) say it’s widespread in regional usage, especially in speech.

And DARE says it’s “in use by speakers of all educ levels.”

But Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd ed.) rejects it as dialectal and cites a linguistic study that found the usage “well-established, though controversial” in Missouri.

“That means that the informants were all familiar with it, but many didn’t like it,” Garner’s says. “The findings would probably hold throughout most of the United States.”

As widespread as the usage is, we’d recommend against using it in formal writing. It’s OK in speech and informal writing, though, as long as your audience has a positive attitude about “anymore.”

One last point: Don’t confuse the adverb “anymore” (“We don’t eat out anymore”) with the phrase “any more” (“Do you want any more pizza?”).

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