Join 3,368 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


I usually think and write good.
December 24, 2011 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Asking for my brother: Correct usage of the word "anymore."

My brother mentioned today that people he knows are constantly misusing the word "anymore." The example he used was "This is the kind of service you get anymore."

When we were discussing it, I admitted that usually you might think of phrasing this as "You don't get good service anymore," but I couldn't think of what exactly was wrong with saying "This is the kind of service you get anymore." (meaning, these days service is bad.)

Looking up the definition, the word means, "1. any longer.2.nowadays; presently."

Doesn't this fit the 2nd definition -- "This is the kind of service you get nowadays"? (meaning bad service)?

We are both native English speakers FWIW.
posted by sweetkid to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I believe it's a regional US usage, I want to say northern midwest or northeast. I can't find a reference right now, though.
posted by rhizome at 5:35 PM on December 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


think this fits: "The adverb "anymore" is standard American English when it is used in a negative sense, as in "I don't do that anymore." It is a regional or dialectal usage, mostly restricted to spoken English, when it is used in a positive sense, meaning "nowadays", as in "Anymore I do that" or "I do that anymore."
posted by facetious at 5:35 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Positive anymore at a linguistics blog. (Sadly, I could only find passing mentions at Language Log). Positive anymore is nonstandard; it's a dialect thing.
posted by Jeanne at 5:51 PM on December 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I believe it's a regional US usage, I want to say northern midwest or northeast.

Well, I grew up in Wisconsin (Northern Midwest), and I've been living in NY state for years (Northeast), and I've never heard this usage.
posted by John Cohen at 5:53 PM on December 24, 2011


If anyone said "This is the kind of service you get anymore." to me, I'd have no idea what they meant. Just because a word or term can be replaced by a similar term - "1. any longer.2.nowadays; presently." doesn't mean they're interchangeable.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:58 PM on December 24, 2011


I have a friend from Pittsburgh who uses the 'positive anymore'. I commented on it once and he said he'd become aware of it only after moving away and was trying to stop saying it because people noticed it. It's definitely nonstandard but whether it's 'misuse' depends on your perspective.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:00 PM on December 24, 2011


Yale Grammatical Diversity Project on positive anymore.
posted by Jeanne at 6:00 PM on December 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've never heard of polarity items before. Is there a list of them somewhere? Wikipedia uses 'anything' as an example, but that would imply that "I'll eat anything" is ungrammatical. They also list "ever", which would make "The first time ever I saw your face." wrong, as well. Are there NPI and non-NPI versions of these words?
posted by empath at 6:07 PM on December 24, 2011


Definitely regional. I grew up in the Philly suburbs and I heard it but it was uncommon. When I started working in the city, I heard it a lot more and have adopted it. I would attribute it (in this area) to Pittsburgh, Philly, and South Jersey.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:15 PM on December 24, 2011


We've had this question previously, I believe (although I couldn't find it), and as I recall the consensus was that it was accepted somewhere, regionally; although to those outside the region it sounds bizarre.
posted by Rash at 6:42 PM on December 24, 2011


My husband uses the word in the same way your husband heard. He was born and raised in the Midwest in Indiana and Ohio with parents from the same area. I always just assumed it was regional and it drives me crazy, but as he swears he had to learn a whole other language to speak to me, I'm Australian, I keep my peace about it. Like gray17 I find it like fingernails on a blackboard.
posted by wwax at 6:45 PM on December 24, 2011


I knew someone from Nova Scotia who used it that way, as did someone I know from rural Ontario. I think it sounds quaint.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:48 PM on December 24, 2011


We've had this question previously,

I definitely couldn't find it.
posted by sweetkid at 6:50 PM on December 24, 2011


I am from Wyoming and people say "anymore" in a positive sense all the time, including me. I don't think it has anything to do with correct or incorrect grammar; it's just the way people talk.
posted by Lobster Garden at 6:57 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd never heard of "positive anymore" and being regional sounds like the right explanation.

(btw my brother was like..."there are people just on there answering questions all the time?"...yep. All the time.)

thanks!
posted by sweetkid at 7:02 PM on December 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


I thought I remembered this question too, but I can only find a tangent in this MeTa thread. (Link to best comment.)
posted by purpleclover at 8:01 PM on December 24, 2011


Here's a map from the Atlas of North American English showing the outlines of where people report that they use positive 'anymore' (unfortunately it seems like you can't really zoom in far enough to see the details, but you can see basically where the red line goes). Note, though, that an interesting thing about Philadelphians, at least, is that they are often prolific users of this constructions but are also likely to swear up and down that they've never heard such a thing. So a study based on speaker self-reports, as this portion of the Atlas of North American English is, should be taken with a grain of salt.

It's important to understand what positive 'anymore' actually means. A sentence with positive 'anymore' in it specifically means that something used to not be true, and now it is true. So if you say "Traffic is really awful anymore," it means "In the past traffic was not so bad, but now traffic is terrible". Note that this is the converse of the standard NPI version 'any more': if you say "Traffic isn't really awful any more," it means "In the past traffic was terrible, but now it's not so bad." This is a beautiful example of how nonstandard dialect forms can have their own logic: the versions of the sentence with and without a 'not' in them mean exactly the opposite things, which is perfectly reasonable.

There also is probably something going on with positive 'anymore' and complaints. It seems that the use of positive 'anymore' is often associated with griping about the way the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I don't think anyone has an explanation for this!

To answer empath's question about NPIs, I had to go back to the notes from my Intro to Semantics class from when I was an undergrad. Yes, there are some NPI/non-NPI homophone pairs. The most common one is 'any'. There's one form of the word 'any' that is an NPI, so "I don't have any money" is good but "*I have any money" is bad (the asterisk means ungrammatical). This is the existential form of 'any', which can be paraphrased as just an indefinite "I don't have money". The non-NPI homophone is universal 'any', which we find in sentences like "Any doctor can tell you that". You can see the universal meaning if you paraphrase with 'every', another universal quantifier: "Every doctor can tell you that". The NPIs that are the most fun are the idiomatic expressions called minimizers. An example is that you can say "I don't give a damn" (you minimize how much you care), but you can't say "I give a damn". So the idiomatic verb phrase 'give a damn' is an NPI.

I just googled "list of negative polarity items" and the first hit seems to have a (probably partial) list near the bottom of the page. I can't vouch for its completeness or accuracy.

Pretty much all languages seem to have NPIs. Pretty interesting stuff (I'm no semanticist, but I do find this particular topic in semantics fascinating). Sorry this strayed a little ways away from positive 'anymore', but I hope it's meaningful linguistic context for the answers to the question.

Still sounds like nails on a blackboard to me.
You're certainly entitled to an opinion, but please be careful not to confuse your feelings about other speech varieties with facts about the world or useful answers to AskMe questions.

posted by ootandaboot at 9:01 PM on December 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


The example given in the OP certainly is not highly common, but I suppose that's because it's just not a common piece of conversation in the sense that people aren't comparing current day to the past so often as a topic. That said, I don't feel like it is hard to understand, nor is it incorrect usage.

I hear positive "anymore" used enough not to be confused by it, and more frequently it is in conversation opposed to writing. However, where I'm from (Iowa), I think it's more likely to hear someone use a positive "anymore" than to use "these days." I also tend to hear people start sentences with an inflected (to show emphasis) positive "anymore" more often than end a sentence, e.g. "Anymore, this is the type of service you get."
posted by erstwhile at 9:01 PM on December 24, 2011


A sentence with positive 'anymore' in it specifically means that something used to not be true, and now it is true.
It seems that the use of positive 'anymore' is often associated with griping about the way the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Yes, you nailed it! When I was trying to think of examples and they sounded funny... the ones that sound right are things like the following:
Life really sucks anymore.
I hate going there anymore.
She's a real beeyatch anymore.
My computer is so slow anymore.
People talk so funny anymore.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:30 PM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm from the north side of Chicago and feel like many people around me use positive anymore. It sounds normal to me though I don't use it myself that much (anymore--I did when I was younger, though).
posted by marimeko at 10:22 PM on December 24, 2011


I've never heard of polarity items before. Is there a list of them somewhere? Wikipedia uses 'anything' as an example, but that would imply that "I'll eat anything" is ungrammatical. They also list "ever", which would make "The first time ever I saw your face." wrong, as well. Are there NPI and non-NPI versions of these words?

Right. The trouble is that "negative polarity item" is actually a bit of a misnomer. There's a whole laundry list of contexts in which NPIs can occur, including....There are a couple different theories in linguistics about what these NPI-licensing contexts have in common. (One popular theory says that the crucial property is, they're all downward-entailing.)

Anyway, the point is just that NPIs can occur in any of those NPI-licensing contexts. But outside a NPI-licensing context, they're bad. Note that you can't just say "He's ever been hang-gliding."

If you just want a list of NPIs, this old mailing list post by John Lawler has a pretty extensive one, along with a much longer list of NPI-licensing contexts than the one I gave above.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:05 PM on December 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Californian with native Californian parent and the positive anymore is used.
posted by jadepearl at 9:25 AM on December 25, 2011


Just to add to the anecdata, I live in Montana and folks use this all the time, including my own family members who live in a semi-rural area out here.
posted by Polyhymnia at 10:51 AM on December 25, 2011


Please listen to ootandaboot; ootandaboot knows what's what. Also, a hat tip to Lobster Garden for a good concise summary: "I don't think it has anything to do with correct or incorrect grammar; it's just the way people talk."
posted by languagehat at 12:05 PM on December 25, 2011


This is a Pittsburgh thing.

I asked a similar/related question previously:

This Needs Answered.
posted by lohmannn at 7:27 PM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ha-- I just had this conversation with someone the other day. Positive Anymore is completely fine with me, though I don't believe I use it myself very often. I'm from Indiana and Ohio, and it sounds normal enough to me that when it was brought up by the other person as odd I was really perplexed. I assumed it was general. I believe the other party was from the Pacific Northwest. And hey, apparently it isn't!
posted by Because at 1:09 AM on December 26, 2011


I heard it in MO in 1988. Since then have heard it elsewhere, including PA and MI.
posted by LonnieK at 4:56 PM on December 26, 2011


It may be regional, and it may not be. People sometimes think a phrase is native to their own region only because they don't spend much real time, i.e., workaday time, in other regions.
For example, I follow a board about a Georgia town, and it occasionally has threads about local turns of speech, and everything under the sun shows up in those threads.
Point being: Just because you hear something where you live, that doesn't mean it's in use only where you live.
(Although yes, "needs answered" is truly a Pgh construction.)
posted by LonnieK at 5:01 PM on December 26, 2011


« Older We need to finish the ceiling ...   |  My female friend's boyfriend k... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.