I am a non-native English speaker from India. I would like to know the usage of "Like anything" when you want to emphasize something you want to say. For example, "He beat him like anything", "She laughs at me like anything". Do native speakers use this kind of language when they want to intensify their sentences? Out of all, is it correct to use "Like anything"? Can someone please shed some light on this. Thank you in advance.

  • I have never heard that particular expression before and would advise against using it. See here: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/9478/… – Jonas Jul 14 '14 at 10:28
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    Thanks Jonas. I have seen a lot of people using this expression particularly here in my part of the world. – Geeniewanted Jul 14 '14 at 10:31
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    Yes, it's just a general purpose intensifier, not uncommon in conversation in the UK. I'd be very surprised to see it written down, in anything but reported speech. – Rupe Jul 14 '14 at 10:34
  • I think we may have a similar expression in Italian: "come niente" (literally: "like nothing") – Pam Jul 14 '14 at 11:10
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    That being said, I don't mean it's simply a failure of thought. To say of a car that it goes like anything is an accepted phrase in itself. – Neil W Jul 14 '14 at 11:18

I have become familiar with the expression like anything as a general intensifier through Indian English, where it seems to be used very often - I have not heard it used regularly in any other dialect, which doesn't mean it is not used at all.

However, that does not mean I agree with Jonas' comment that therefore it should be avoided. As an intensifier, it is readily understood, also by people that have not heard it before, and it is certainly an established expression in what may be the fastest growing, and soon-to-be most-spoken, dialect of English.

I expect native speakers of Indian English to use this expression, as well as other particular expressions that adorn the Indian dialect of English.

It certainly causes less confusion to speakers of other dialect than the British use of a rubber - or for that matter, the Indian use of bottom to mean the lower part of one's clothing.

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    It's common enough in the UK – Rupe Jul 14 '14 at 10:43
  • A very similar turn of phrase is (perhaps more AmE?) like nobody’s business. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 14 '14 at 10:48
  • I haven't heard of it much but "Like anything" is definitely something that people use more often.. – Geeniewanted Jul 14 '14 at 10:52

OED covers the usage under like sense B 1b...

In colloquial phrases denoting vigour or rapidity of action, as like anything, like a shot, like fun, like blazes, etc.

They have citations going back to 1681 with like any thing, but it's not until 1871 that we get the single-word version, in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-glass...

They [the Walrus and the Carpenter] wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said “it would be grand!”

In short, the usage is long-established, and has no particular associations with "Indian English" or any other regional dialect. But it remains rather colloquial/informal.

  • It's unclear to me what you mean by "single-word version". Is it "like anything" as opposed to "like any thing"? – Rupe Jul 14 '14 at 13:05
  • @Rupe: Obviously. The original written form of anything was two words (any thing). Sometime in the two centuries between the 1680s and the 1880s the one-word form became more common. I simply wanted to make the point that the usage being asked about here predates that orthographic shift. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '14 at 13:20

I heard "like anything" from my father, whose family came from rural Iowa. I think I've also heard "like everything," but I may be mistaken. I used it myself just the other day (I grew up in southern California in the 1940s-50s, but I've always assumed it came from my midwestern roots.)

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