Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The "anyways" conundrum

Here's something that puzzled me while I was reading a collection of Richard Matheson’s short stories.

Most grammar-pedants of my generation will agree that “anyways” — a corruption of “anyway”, and widely used by millennials and other mentally feeble groups — is an evil word. Also a rare case of a word or phrase being turned into “cool”-sounding slang by making it longer rather than shorter. (I’m sure it will soon be legitimised by the Oxford English Dictionary — because language “evolves” etc etc — and then the joke will be on us; but that’s another matter.)

Thing is, I was also certain that “anyways" was a recent creation: the first time I recall hearing it was in glossy Hindi films of the early 2000s where people like Sunil Shetty and Celina Jaitley would say it to each other while wearing sunglasses and cavorting on yachts. (Just conveying an impression, not saying there was exactly such a film.) For some reason it also felt like a particularly Indian mistake, like our famous habit of using a singular noun rather than a plural one at the end of “one of the…” or “one of my…”

But now I have found at least seven or eight occurrences of “anyways” in separate stories — mostly written between the 1950s and the 1960s — in this Richard Matheson anthology. In suspense classics like “Duel” (which was made into a super film by the young Steven Spielberg), “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, "Shipshape Home" and “No Such Thing as a Vampire”. It’s clear that Matheson routinely used the word, and not just in quoted speech.

Having read a lot of American and British genre/pulp writing from the 1920s through the 1960s, I can’t offhand recall other instances of this usage. Also, I rate Matheson a lot higher than many of the other “pure pulp” writers who wrote mainly for the cheapest magazines of their day, and much of whose work has not endured. (Read Matheson’s short story “The Doll That Does Everything” for a sense of the brilliantly zany and bold linguistic flourishes he could pull off when it suited a situation.) So it felt even stranger that his work should contain this satanic nonword.

Anyone who has come across other such cases in 20th century literature?

P.S. Researching, I learnt that “anyways” is a modification of “anywise”, which was used as far back as the 13th century. But it still feels like the current, slang-ish, 21st century version has a different provenance. It conjures up the image of young people, too lazy or privileged to complete a sentence without a servant to help them do it, curled up on a beanbag in Cafe Coffee Day, staring into their phones and thinking “What’s the point of life anyways?"

2 comments:

  1. "Just conveying an impression, not saying there was exactly such a film"
    I can remember only one film with Shetty and Jaitley... that also had Deol & Jadeja. A Glorious film!

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  2. I also associate anyways or worse anywayz with dis dat tym lyk texting "younger"people ..although Sunil Shetty is anything but young...

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