Thursday, July 9, 2009

Countability and Strong Positive Anymore

Seven or eight years ago, I discovered that I have a linguistic condition called "Positive Anymore." I was in college, chatting with my roommates, and said something like "Anymore, I just lift weights in the Leverett gym." One of my roommates just couldn't take it anymore. "I've heard you say 'anymore' like that for years now. What the hell does it mean?" A quick poll of those present revealed that I was the only one for whom that construction made grammatical sense. My aunt (a linguistics professor) gave me the prognosis: I had Positive Anymore.

I used to think that PA was a linguistic shortcoming of mine, but anymore I'm convinced it's more like a superpower. Whereas most English speakers can only use the word in negative constructions like "I don't drive anymore" I have the uncanny ability to use it positively as per the first sentence in this paragraph. Moreover, I don't just have PA, I have strong PA, which means I can, at will, detach "anymore" and put it anywhere in a sentence. "Anymore, I just take the bus." Astounded yet?
If you're still having trouble parsing that, replace "anymore" with "nowadays"--to me, they mean about the same thing.

I receive no end of flak from friends, relatives, and spouses about my PA, although it's not that uncommon a condition. In fact, I have caught several of my relatives (mostly on my dad's side) using PA even after making fun of me for my PA. They have it and don't even know it.

Anyway, S and I were trying to figure out if my use of PA was inconsistent with my use of "any", which I use according to the standard rules. But it turns out the standard rules are weirder than you might think. For example, "I don't want any spam" is a grammatical negative construction; "I want any spam" is ungrammatical and positive. "Do you want any spam?" is grammatical and seems positive, but it turns out that there is an implied negative in English owing to the uncertainty inherent in questions and subjunctives. Hmph. And then what about "I like any spam I can get?" That seems positive again, but the clause "I can get" is required to make it grammatical. And then the plot thickens. "I feed spam to any dog" is grammatical and did not require a clause to modify "any dog."

Our theory was that using "any" positively without a clause requires the noun modified by "any" to come in quantized units--to be countable. Dogs are countable; spam is a continuum, much like water or space-time. The best example we could think of that illustrated this was "fish". Fish can be countable noun (number of live fishes) or continuum noun (amount of dead fish to eat). If I say "I'll take any fish," the ambiguity in the countability of fish is broken--it's clear I'm talking about a live fish (or, perhaps, a type of fish, which is also countable). But if I say "I'll take any fish that you give me," the ambiguity is preserved.

The implication was that for my use of PA to be consistent with the standard use of "any" (which it may not need to be, since "anymore" is one word, not "any more"), I must be thinking of the time interval referred to by PA (i.e. now and continuing indefinitely into the future) as something countable rather than continuous. Maybe. I don't know. Anymore, I'm just really confused.


  1. I like any veggieburger. I like any cereal. I like any sunset. I'll drink any water. While reading your post, I wondered whether there's an implied "I can get" at the ends of these sentences, but I don't think so anymore.

  2. I think those all imply countability. Even for "any water", I think there's an implied "type of water", so that you are talking about countable types.

  3. The Oxford English Dictionary online describes 'anymore' as a two word adverb construction, but interesting includes examples for both the negative and positive usages.

    I would never have thought to use it in a positive sense myself.

    "1. a. In negative, interrogative, or hypothetical contexts: in repetition or continuance of what has taken place up to a particular time; further, longer, again.

    b. Chiefly Irish English and N. Amer. colloq. In affirmative contexts: now, nowadays, at the present time; from now on."

    One of the examples provided is similar to that of your usage, at the start of the sentence:

    "1973 Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) 14 Mar. 2/1 Any more, the difference between a white collar worker and a blue collar worker is simply a matter of shirt preference."

    If I phrase the constructions very simply (and perhaps my classing of these is out a little) I can grasp the usage more easily:

    I don't sing any more.
    noun verb-adverb verb adverb

    I sing any more.
    noun verb adverb

    Rather than a meaning of 'nowadays' it feels to me more of a 'will continue'. However, it wouldn't occur to me to use it in either sense. :-)