Today’s (August 24) New York Times carries an article titled “Progress has seemed fitful for many at March” with the lead-copy;
“For Daniel R. Smith, 81, who attended the March on Washington in 1963, the country has a ways to go in realizing the dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
I was drawn to the expression, “the country has a ways to go in realizing the dream of Rev. King” because first, the infinitive article (a) doesn’t agree with plural noun (ways) in “a ways,” second, I’m unfamiliar with the case that “have a way to go” being used in the same sense of having a lot of work to do as “have a long way to go,” which I’m familar with.
Cambridge English Dictionary defines “a long way to go” as an idiom meaning a lot of work to do or improvements to make, but it doesn’t carry the phrase, “a way to go.”
Oxford English Dictionary carries neither “a long way to go” nor “a way to go.”
Google Ngram shows that usage of “have a long way to go” existed before / since 1840 and it is on a constant rise to a ratio of 0.000054% in 2007. On the other hand, the usage of “have a way to go” emerged in 1920, and its usage remains one digit low at 0.0000014% level in 2007.
Here’s my question:
Is “have a way to go” simply a shortened form of “have a long way to go”? If it is, doesn’t it get you confused with the other usages of 'a (the) way to go,' such as “If you wish, you have the way to go to college by getting scholarship,” “There should be a way to go in finding the solution.”?