Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

"Way better" and "way more" are popular expressions, but they both seem incorrect to me. "Far better", "far more", "much better", and "much more" all seem correct. Is this true? If so, why?

share|improve this question
5  
What criterion would satisfy you that something is "correct"? –  nohat Aug 19 '11 at 22:26
    
It is correct so long as my parents don't correct me, and they're in their 80's. Actually, I would consider slang as incorrect and informal to be marginal. –  xpda Aug 19 '11 at 22:41
1  
That’s a definition of correctness that has little to do with linguistic reality. Correctness is in large part a function of context. There are contexts in which slang is entirely appropriate and therefore correct. Indeed, there are contexts in which anything but slang is so stilted as to be pragmatically incorrect. The same goes for informal usages and, mutatis mutandis, for usages that Miss Thistlebottom at her strictest couldn’t fault. –  Brian M. Scott Aug 19 '11 at 23:23
    
I understand. The context I am looking for is formal to informal. –  xpda Aug 19 '11 at 23:35
1  
@xpda I would suggest asking your parents for their intuitions of what is correct if that is your criterion. –  nohat Aug 19 '11 at 23:57
show 1 more comment

2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Apparently, "way" was a contraction of "away". It took on an adverbial meaning in the early 1900s:

In the 19th century, “‘way” was also used for “away” in the sense of a great distance: “way towards Tupper’s Lake” (1849); “He sat ‘way under the mantle” (1888); “way below cost” (1890); “mere specks, ‘way down the road” (1927), and so on. (Note that some writers used an apostrophe to show the “a” had been dropped from “away.”)

In addition, since the 19th century both “away” and “way” have been used as adverbs to add emphasis. These usages are heard chiefly in the US, the OED notes, though it includes some British citations.

Here are some “away” citations: “away up in Canada” (1818); “away down east” (1825); “away back in 1840″ (1882); “away up in price” (1903); “away behind” (1906); “I’m away wrong” (1910); and “away down in the list” (1858).

And here are some “way” citations: “way over yonder” (1850); “way down south” (1851); “way down East” (1854); “‘way down amongst the roots” (1866); and “sick of it way through” (1908).

Finally, we come to the usage you’re talking about, and here’s where “way” and “away” part company. This is the adverbial use of “way” to mean “much” or “far.”

Way can be used as an adverb, but it is very informal. According to this entry:

adv

  1. informal a. at a considerable distance or extent: way over yonder b. very far: they're way up the mountain
  2. informal by far; considerably: way better
  3. slang truly; genuinely: they have a way cool site

It is not incorrect to say that something is way better or that you have way more of something, but it is not formal. It has also been in adverbial use for long enough that 80 year olds should accept it.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I think the reason "way more" or "way better" might sound incorrect is that the word "way" is also commonly used as a noun, as in "which way should I go?". You could substitute "which direction should I go?" for "which way should I go?" but heretofore I have not heard anyone say (even in slang) that something is a "direction cool site." (I might bloody well have to eat my hat in the future but for now I haven't yet heard that instance of delightfully creative usage stretching enjoying the slang category of acceptability.) If someone is associating the noun form of the word "way" in an adverbial context (just as a matter of familiarity or habit and not by way of linguistic analysis), then the ear might reject the usage based on the fact that something seems "incorrect" when a noun is substituted for an adverb.

That is how I determined why the slang use of the word "way" as in "way more help" was unpleasant sounding to me when I first heard it. So while admittedly the ear can be deceiving and is no substitute for rigorous linguistic analysis, the ear as one of our 5 sense instruments does alert us to external stimuli that are different than what we are used to and therefore provides us with departure points for further investigation.

share|improve this answer
1  
I find this suggestion very dubious. When an expression is widely used (as this one is, though much more in the US than the UK from my experience), the judgment of whether it sounds "incorrect" is a purely social one. –  Colin Fine Oct 28 '13 at 19:34
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.