a long ways away

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Ms Missy

Senior Member
USA English
Although I've always heard the expression a 'long ways away' to refer to a distant place, or 'a long ways off' to refer to an event that would take place in the distant future, I'm just now curious as to why it's 'a long ways away' instead of 'a long way away' or a long ways off instead of a long way off. Is this just the case of a regional difference (or perhaps an idiomatic expression) where it's okay to say it either way? :confused:

Thanks!
 
  • mariposita

    Senior Member
    US, English
    Personally, I've always said "way"--probably due to the fact that the verb is singular, which causes the plural-sounding "ways" to jar my sense of grammatical correctness (even though the dictionary says the "s" in ways comes from the genitive case, not pluralization). This is what the American Heritage Dictionary says about usage:

    Usage Note: Way has long been an intensifying adverb meaning "to a great degree," as in way over budget. This usage is both acceptable and common but has an informal ring. · Way is also used as a general intensifier, as in way cool and way depressing. This locution has expanded beyond its original range of younger speakers, but it is still regarded as slang. · In American English ways is often used as an equivalent of way in phrases such as a long ways to go. The usage is acceptable but is usually considered informal.
     

    Ms Missy

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Personally, I've always said "way"--probably due to the fact that the verb is singular, which causes the plural-sounding "ways" to jar my sense of grammatical correctness

    Yes, that's the same thing that had me confused, so thanks for checking it out. Even though I had always heard those two phrases expressed with 'ways' I was quite sure that in the long run it would prove to be incorrect. In fact, I almost changed my mind about posing the question on the English Forum! So Iwas really surprised when I read the Usage Note.

    Thanks again!
    Missy

    Usage Note: Way has long been an intensifying adverb meaning "to a great degree," as in way over budget. This usage is both acceptable and common but has an informal ring. · Way is also used as a general intensifier, as in way cool and way depressing. This locution has expanded beyond its original range of younger speakers, but it is still regarded as slang. · In American English ways is often used as an equivalent of way in phrases such as a long ways to go. The usage is acceptable but is usually considered informal.
     

    Joobs

    Banned
    Glasgow, Scotland - English
    Although I've always heard the expression a 'long ways away' to refer to a distant place, or 'a long ways off' to refer to an event that would take place in the distant future, I'm just now curious as to why it's 'a long ways away' instead of 'a long way away' or a long ways off instead of a long way off. Is this just the case of a regional difference (or perhaps an idiomatic expression) where it's okay to say it either way? :confused:

    Thanks!
    The reason for "ways" in such expressions may be due to a hypothesis for its etymology (not the official one) as a name for a Roman Road. For instance: Icknield Way in UK or Apian Way in Italy. This was also used in towns with minor streets being so named i.e. Stepney Way in London. Therefore, when people spoke about distances to far-away places they would use phrases such as "a long ways away" denoting that to get from here to there you had to travel many long ways (roads).

    To contrast there are many phrases in use which show the singular usage of way (road) such as:

    "It's along the way" - further along this road.
    "It's in the way/road " - an obstruction (in UK both versions are used - though, today, never when the obstruction actually is on a road).
    "That's the way" - That's correct (that's the road (route to take))
    "The right way" - The correct road/path/direction, etc.

    So it isn't quite as illogical as it at first seems. :)
     

    Ms Missy

    Senior Member
    USA English
    See the thread on anyway/anyways here
    Wow! What an interesting thread! Some very good points were brought out in a very professional manner. It also raised a couple of new questions in my mind about the use of certain other words that some people attach an 's' at the end, while others don't. But I'll leave that for another day and another thread!

    Thanks again!;)
    Missy
     

    Ms Missy

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The reason for "ways" in such expressions is due to its etymology as a name for a Roman Road. For instance: Icknield Way in UK or Apian Way in Italy. This was also used in towns with minor streets being so named i.e. Stepney Way in London. Therefore, when people spoke about distances to far-away places they would use phrases such as "a long ways away" denoting that to get from here to there you had to travel many long ways (roads). I love that example! After hearing the story behind the way this word evolved, suddenly it doesn't sound so odd or grammatically incorrect anymore. It's also easier to understand why regional differences should not necessarily be looked upon as non-standard language usage. After all, whose region and whose standards are we to go by?

    To contrast there are many phrases in use which show the singular usage of way (road) such as:

    "It's along the way" - further along this road.
    "It's in the way/road " - an obstruction (in UK both versions are used - though, today, never when the obstruction actually is on a road).
    "That's the way" - That's correct (that's the road (route to take))
    "The right way" - The correct road/path/direction, etc.

    So it isn't quite as illogical as it at first seems. :)
    :thumbsup:

    PS. A couple more for your list:

    "highways and byways." (travel on the ...)
    "It's on the way (the check is in the mail)
    I'm on my way (to your house)

    Many thanks!
    Missy
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The OED doesn't mention the etymology given by Joobs for ways.
    In a good, great, little, long ways, the origin of the use of ways for way is obscure. Now only dial. and U.S.
    It might possibly have arisen from the analogy of phrases containing the adverbial genitive. There is no known instance in OE. of such a construction ....
    The genitive ways occurs in many adverbial phrases in which it is combined with a preceding pronominal adjective. Most of these phrases came to be written as single words: for example anyways, noways, otherways, -ways suffix. Other similar collocations, now obsolete or dialect,are each ways, this ways, that ways, which ways, the same ways - in each case synonymous with the singular version.

    (Summarised from the OED.)

    Is there a reference source for the Roman Road theory?
     

    Joobs

    Banned
    Glasgow, Scotland - English
    The OED doesn't mention the etymology given by Joobs for ways.
    Is there a reference source for the Roman Road theory?
    Problem with the OED is they really want to see something in print before they'll accept and grant it as bone-fide. Anyway, I'll see if I can dig it out - (It's in one of my many books).

    Byways - was it really that much OT? - Never mind treat as rhetorical.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I don't buy the Roman Roads theory because "a" precludes a plural meaning. It may be a modernism-Americanism, but I think of it as an adverbial genitive of the whole phrase "a long way". "A long ways off" is a little less definite to me than "a long way off", as "besides" is less definite than "beside".
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    The reason for "ways" in such expressions is due to its etymology as a name for a Roman Road.
    Oh? Really? It's a convenient error to assume that way comes from via but convenience doesn't make it so. What would you say to this? (via Online
    Etymology Dictionary)
    O.E. weg "road, path, course of travel," from P.Gmc. *wegaz (cf. O.S., Du. weg, O.N. vegr, O.Fris. wei, O.H.G. weg, Ger. Weg, Goth. wigs "way"), from PIE *wegh- "to move" (see weigh). Most of the extended senses developed in M.E. Adj. meaning "very, extremely" is early 1980s, perhaps from phrase all the way. Wayfaring is O.E. wegfarende; Ways and means "resources at a person's disposal" is attested from c.1430. Way-out (adj.) "original, bold," is jazz slang, first recorded 1940s.
    ...when people spoke about distances to far-away places they would use phrases such as "a long ways away" denoting that to get from here to there you had to travel many long ways (roads).
    This seems like a fairly far-fetched speculation. Having to travel many long ways
    doesn't imply having to travel a long ways.

    The speculation may be correct, but the case presented so far is a long way from logical.

    To contrast there are many phrases in use which show the singular usage of way (road) such as:

    "It's along the way" - further along this road.
    "It's in the way/road " - an obstruction (in UK both versions are used - though, today, never when the obstruction actually is on a road).
    "That's the way" - That's correct (that's the road (route to take))
    "The right way" - The correct road/path/direction, etc.
    All of these are pretty distant from the thread topic, and some are way out in left field.
     

    Joobs

    Banned
    Glasgow, Scotland - English
    Oh? Really? It's a convenient error to assume that way comes from via but convenience doesn't make it so. What would you say to this? (via Online Etymology Dictionary)
    Sorry you misunderstand I do not say it comes from the Latin. I accept it is from the OE weg which became ME wey and then way. What I meant was that it was our early English name for a Roman road. Obviously the Romans never called it the Apian Way that was the later English translation of Via Apia. Just as German/Deutsch relate to each other. When the Romans were in Britain it was just Celts/Picts and them - The Angle, Saxons and Viking periods of influence and start of English didn't occur till approx 450AD.

    I accept that sometimes just because something sounds right it may not be so. As an example of such:

    There is a false idea that the Red Indians (Native Americans) were named so because Columbus said "In Dios" when he claimed the land. Of course the real reason was that (as per the plan) he thought he had arrived at the Indian sub-continent from the East so it was assumed that these peoples were in truth Indians. "In Dios" (in God's name) is merely part of the standard speech the Spanish would make in claiming land for their country.

    Of course the difference between the two is that we can easily disprove the Indian story because though it sounds plausible at first sight the standard usage of "In Dios" did not result in all other colonized natives being dubbed Indians. However, in the case of Way/Road there is no easy exception to prove the rule. Can you think of any?

    To be honest, I doubt it will ever be accepted officially since I can see no way to provide acceptable definitive proof. It all stems from the period known as the Dark Ages when christianity put the shackles on learning and knowledge (except that which they deemed useful/correct). That said even if shown to be mere fancy and wishful thinking it is a nice story, isn't it? Certainly better than the official line.
     

    Joobs

    Banned
    Glasgow, Scotland - English
    I don't buy the Roman Roads theory because "a" precludes a plural meaning. It may be a modernism-Americanism, but I think of it as an adverbial genitive of the whole phrase "a long way". "A long ways off" is a little less definite to me than "a long way off", as "besides" is less definite than "beside".
    Not necessarily there are many remnants in English of much older words being used in phrases which technically don't quite match up, I never claimed "a" had always been in the phrase or that it logically made sense. It may have been a later addition or merely a contraction of a now archaic OE/ME word (there are quite a few which would fit) but all those truly are speculative.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Of course the difference between the two is that we can easily disprove the Indian story because though it sounds plausible at first sight the standard usage of "In Dios" did not result in all other colonized natives being dubbed Indians. However, in the case of Way/Road there is no easy exception to prove the rule. Can you think of any?
    Well, yes. It seems that they would say "a long way away" or "many ways away" if they were referring to "road" as "way". "A long roads away" makes no sense to my mind.

    That said even if shown to be mere fancy and wishful thinking it is a nice story, isn't it? Certainly better than the official line.
    I think it's important to present stories as stories unless we know for a fact otherwise.
     

    Joobs

    Banned
    Glasgow, Scotland - English
    Well, yes. It seems that they would say "a long way away" or "many ways away" if they were referring to "road" as "way". "A long roads away" makes no sense to my mind.

    I think it's important to present stories as stories unless we know for a fact otherwise.
    "I have amended my original post to reflect that this is merely a hypothesis for the etymology and not official." How many problems the omission of one word can cause? :(
     

    Ms Missy

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Thanks to all who contributed to this thread. My original inquiry has been answered to my satisfaction (which was how way(s) came to be interpreted as road(s), whether it meant one road or many roads). Other than that, I'll yield the right of way to scholars on etomology etc.

    Thanks again!
     
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