Monday, 29 October 2007

Too busy to blog anymore?

Oh dear - it's been almost a whole week since my last post, and people have even been emailing me to ask if I'm OK!

I'm very touched by the concern - thank you - it makes blogland feel rather like the sort of neighbourhood where people start to make enquiries if you don't take the milk in one morning.

Actually, I'm absolutely fine, thanks - just quite monstrously busy with work, on top of which it was half term last week and there were men in replacing the central heating boiler and all the carefully planned sequential workflow has morphed somehow into one vast mountain of urgent work. A veritable Bass Rock of piled-up deadlines and I am deep in gannet guano.

I haven't even been walking the dog - the children have been doing that through the holidays - so no beach pics, either. I did manage to spend a couple of hours with friends at their beach hut on Friday, but forgot to take the camera, which was a shame because it was an invisible horizon day - the uniformly grey sea and sky merged into one another completely in the eerie stillness.

Normal service will be resumed shortly, but meanwhile, I'd just like to announce how very much I hate the 'word' anymore!

One comes across anymore in blogs and magazines all the time, of course, but I spotted it in a novel I'm reading and it leaped out at me so forcefully that I thought it was time I checked to see whether this is an unreasonable personal loathing, or whether (should I have been the book's copy editor, which I was not), I would have been perfectly 'correct' to split it into two words.

Don't worry. This isn't going to be a rant about what's correct and incorrect in English as She is Written. I take a professional interest in such matters, naturally, but I'm not one of those apoplectic grammarians I've mentioned before who spend their lives waging war against syntactical heresy of one kind or another.

I turned, as so often, to the incomparable http://www.askoxford.com/ , which allows one to dip into the Oxford English Corpus - the fullest, most accurate picture of the language today. Comprising some two billion words of real twenty-first century English, it provides the evidence of how language is used in real situations, and it is employed by lexicographers as a basis for writing accurate and meaningful dictionary entries. It includes all types of English, from literary novels and specialist journals to everyday newspapers and magazines and from Hansard to the language of chatrooms, emails and (crucially) blogs.

Here's what it has to say about anymore:

Some day or someday?
A number of common words in English started out as two-word phrases and eventually became fused as single-word forms: forever, somebody, everyone.

The Oxford English Corpus shows the process continuing today. The chart below gives some examples. For instance, it shows that the phrase some time now appears as the fused single-word form sometime in 32% of all occurrences in American English and 19% of all occurrences in British English.

The tendency to fuse fixed expressions is more common in American than British English. In American English someday has now become more or less standard, substantially outnumbering occurrences of some day; anymore and underway look set to follow. Although the same trend is apparent in British English, it tends to lag behind.


Does the corpus suggest any patterns in the fusing of expressions in single words?
Fused forms almost always emerge first in informal English (the weblog and chatroom parts of corpus) and are much slower to spread to more formal, edited text such as newspapers and magazines; of the examples shown here, only someday is well represented across all text types.

Fused forms seem to spread more easily if there is a direct analogy with an existing word: anymore benefits from the analogy with anyone and anybody, whereas ofcourse is almost non-existent because there are no analogous of- words.

The tendency to fuse may be stronger when the phrase occurs at the end of a clause: 84% of instances of anymore occur at the end of a clause, compared with 46% of instances of any more.

(You'll need to click on the table to enlarge it sufficiently to read.)

So there we have it. Anymore is far more prevalent in American usage than in 'standard' English English - I think we all knew that. It will doubtless in my lifetime become universally accepted - and there's little I can do about that. And, logically, of course, if we can have anyone and anything, why not anymore? There is no logical argument against it whatever. It will happen. I'm not the copy editor of this book. It's not my concern. Why should I care?

Irrationally, I do care. It will take a lot to persuade me to like, use or endorse anymore in written English. Sorry!

2 comments:

monix said...

Welcome (or should that be well come?) back.
I was interested to see that 'thankyou' is more commonly found in British than in American usage: that is one of my pet hates; the other is 'alright'. Although I always say I've, I'm and I'll, it is only recently that I've been able to write them as I still hear my English teacher of 45 years ago groaning against the corruption of the language. I wonder how she would cope with CU4T?

60goingon16 said...

Anyway, as I was saying . . .or any way?

Good to have you back and let's have even more cross-examination of the language.