I sometimes have to stop on my novel writing journey for some very small detours. One of those detours revisited me last week.
It was a small thing, a simple choice of a word. Do I use toward or towards to describe a motion or direction?
When I asked a poet what to use, she suggested that I go with what most people would be used to reading.
I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s good for supplying both British and North American usage for common words. I read that towards was considered North American and figured that left toward as the British.
After that, I took to using toward in my novel thinking that would be a better fit for the larger English-speaking world.
I should say here that my first inclination had been to use towards. I don’t know why. It just seemed natural.
Enter Miles Gibson, a British novelist and former pen pal to my oldest friend.
I helped my friend reestablish contact with Mr. Gibson and in the process discovered his literary legacy. While reading his first novel, Vinegar Soup, I noticed he used towards in his sentences.
Hum, what’s up with this? I wondered before starting a Google search. My online exploration revealed the two words are interchangeable. No biggie there. But it also revealed that towards was actually considered the British favorite. Mr. Gibson got it right. Again, no biggie. But I was left with two problems: did I misread the OED entries and where did I pick up this usage?
I showed the OED entries to a neutral third party. He came away with the same impression as I had—toward was the British favorite. Strange. My 2004 concise eleventh edition wasn’t so concise after all? Perhaps the twelfth edition will do better.
That left me puzzling about where I picked up my personal preference for using towards. I have to say I’m inclined to blame my friend. She has been a confirmed anglophile most of her life and it must have rubbed off while she was pouring me cups of Typhoo tea.
For the time being I’m going to let this situation remain as is and continue toward my ending.