We’re going to talk for a moment about the word “toward,” or is it “towards”?
But first, a quick and embarrassing personal story:
I used to think I was a pretty smart guy, and loved to toss around $2 words to demonstrate my incredible vocabulary and mastery of the English language. Notice that I used the past tense there. A day finally came when I got my vocabularistic* comeuppance**. (cue dreamy music…)
I was 31 years-old and working at a film-coating plant as the night shift superintendent. Keith, one of my machine operators, was a pretty smart guy, too. One night he said something irrelevant to me, so I replied to him: “Irregardless of that…”
I never finished that sentence. He stopped me with a snarky grin and asserted, “That’s not a real word.”
“What’s not a real word?” I shot back.
“Irregardless, ” he smirked. “There’s no such word.”
“Sure there is. It means ‘without regard to that’ … um … er … regardless.” My voice trailed off.
Keith was right, of course. There ain’t no such word as “irregardless” — since the real word regardless serves quite nicely.
I’m not so quick to shoot off my mouth anymore, or to toss out expensive words just to impress people. As an editor, I’ve learned to question the words I hear other people use, and to be a better listener in general. I’ve also realized that spending time reading articles about common grammar mistakes helps make me a better writer and editor.
We all pick up words and phrases from sources around us — our parents, classmates and teachers, friends, radio broadcasts, and of course the television. Eventually we realize: Don’t believe everything you hear. How many kids are still trying to unlearn “nukuler”? (Talk about a source you should have been able to trust!)
So what about towards?
I mean, really — you hear people use it all the time. But toward means exactly the same thing. So why would one require more than one toward, thus enlisting the plural preposition towards? Is towards just another idiomatic expression? (sorry!)
Well, not exactly.
I asked Dictionary.com for advice on this matter. Turns out, towards is an also of toward. The site was even kind enough to furnish some nifty sample sentences using the word towards. Either word works.
It’s a rare grammar question that can be answered “either way is correct.” While it appears that the singular toward may indeed be preferred, no disparaging declarations about the unsuitability of using towards were evident. Not only that, it’s okay.
So, if you want to go towards the light, that’s perfectly fine. Meanwhile, I’ll start working toward the exit. I think I see Keith coming up the walk. Gotta run!
*not a real word
**a real word that makes me laugh
»photo credit: crdotx
Have you ever suddenly discovered that you’d been using a word or phrase incorrectly for years? After that, did you go around enlightening others, as did my friend Keith? Please tell us about your experience.