Positive anymore?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jun 10 07:18:57 UTC 2001

At 1:29 AM -0400 6/9/01, Douglas Bigham wrote:
>Here's a quote from the latest "Entertainment Weekly".  I think it's a
>"positive anymore" but I wasn't sure if it counts because of the "don't" in
>the first sentence.  So, does it count or not?
>Entertainment Weekly, #600, June 15, 2001, p. 14, Hot Sheet #11, by Jim Mullen
>11. Celeb homes:  They don't seem to seel like they used to.  It's tough to
>say "$10 million bargain" straight-faced anymore.
No, this isn't a positive "anymore", it's a regular negative polarity
"anymore", licensed by TOUGH.  If you substituted EASY for TOUGH and
the "anymore" could be retained--

>Celeb homes:  They're selling as fast as the real estate agents can
>show them.  It's easy to
say "$10 million bargain" straight-faced anymore.
[Think 1980's.]

--then we're truly dealing with positive "anymore".  When we talk
about negative polarity items like "any", "ever", "lift a finger",
"touch a drop", "anymore" [for the received dialect], etc., we're
really talking about a wider range of contexts that include
conditionals, comparatives, questions, relative clauses modifying
universals ("Everyone who ever lifts a finger to help me..."),
"only", and so on.   (There has been a huge amount of work devoted to
characterizing what these contexts have in common that make them act
like "negatives".)

"Anymore" is a harder item to get in some of these contexts than,
say, "ever" or "any", but it's fine for many speakers who are totally
unfamiliar with the true positive "anymore".   Note the following
other negative polarity items that occur when triggered by "tough":

It's tough (/*easy) for me to afford any single malt scotch.
It's tough (/*easy) for my dog to drink so much as a drop of alcohol
without getting very sleepy.

  The same point applies to a recent article by Bob Kyff in the
Detroit Free Press a colleague sent me in which the following
sentences were (incorrectly) cited as purported examples of positive

Every time I leave the house anymore... (Erma Bombeck)
Listening is a rare art anymore.  (Writer's Digest)

--but they're not.

"I always leave the house before 7a.m. anymore" or "Listening is a
useful skill anymore" would be examples of positive "anymore".


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