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March 7th, 2007

Anymore / goals vs. objectives / must a pair match?

by Barbara Wallraff

Michael Nardacci, of Albany, N.Y., writes: “When did ‘anymore’ become a synonym for ‘now’? I understand that the meaning is similar in a sentence such as ‘You can’t smoke in restaurants anymore.’ But I notice people saying things such as ‘Gas used to be cheap, but anymore it is very expensive.’ I hear this frequently from well-educated people and from TV and radio announcers.”

Dear Michael: “Anymore” has always meant something like “now” in negative contexts (note the word “can’t” in your first example sentence) and also in questions. What’s bothering you is “anymore” in affirmative contexts -- and you’re right, it’s not good-quality standard English. It is fairly common in colloquial or casual English, though, and it’s not at all new. But “anymore” is truly correct only where you could say “any longer” instead.

By the way, another potential source of trouble is “anymore,” one word, versus “any more,” two words. It’s not wrong to use the two-word version for everything, but it’s increasingly uncommon. What’s more, having the two versions available lets you make a distinction that would otherwise be lost: “I don’t know anymore” means “I no longer know,” whereas “I don’t know any more” means “That’s all I know.”

Robert Last, of Cleveland, writes: “My company is rewriting a certification program, and we have become caught in a discussion over the meaning of the words ‘goal’ and ‘objective.’ As I learned it, a ‘goal’ is the grand vision or desired end state of an organization or person, and an ‘objective’ is a quantifiable point on the road to meeting a goal. Many of our staff -- all smart, literate people -- define the terms in the opposite way. In many dictionaries, however, the two words seem to be interchangeable. It is driving us nuts!”

Dear Robert: As you’ve discovered, the difference between “goals” and “objectives” is highly subjective. English isn’t always orderly or logical. All the same, you’re right to care. You’ll exasperate your readers if “goals” are steps toward the objective in one paragraph and in the next paragraph it’s the other way around. I’d suggest that you all vote on which way to use each word and do whatever the majority prefers. As long as you distinguish between the two consistently, it doesn’t matter which way you go.

Mal Lang, of Allen Park, Mich., writes: “Please settle a dispute: My friend says that mismatched socks -- say, one black sock and one white sock -- are still a pair of socks. I say no way. She also says that two different earrings are still a pair of earrings, and the same with gloves, cups, etc. I say they have to be the same to be a pair. Also, would the term ‘matching pair’ be redundant?”

Dear Mal: You win. A “pair” of something isn’t just two of them -- it’s a set of two that are “matched or associated,” as the American Heritage Dictionary explains it. So “matching pair” is, strictly speaking, redundant. Every now and then, though, the word is needed for emphasis. For instance, here’s a sentence from a recent piece in the Des Moines (Iowa) Register: “There are some Monday mornings when simply showing up to work wearing a matching pair of socks is a feat in itself for me.”

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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