Occasionally I am encountering people who use the word "anyways." It jars every time I hear it. Is it even a word in the English language? Does it have any legitimate uses? Where is the thing coming from? I don't know how it is any improvement upon or an alternative to "anyway."

I'll appreciate feedback and references about this.

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I have encountered these people too. I don't know their origin.
The word "anyways" is NON-EXISTANT in mainstream English. I think what they mean to say is "ANYWAY", but I can't be sure about this.
Perhaps these people are using a strange dialect (dialect; noun - a form of a language that people speak in a particular part of a country) of English, but again I can't be sure. Maybe they just like to be unconventional.
One thing is for sure, it sounds terrible!
"Anyways" is recognized as colloquial, especially in the United States.

However, you should never use it in print, and if you see it in print, smile to yourself and say "Tsk tsk!"
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I would suggest that if you are endeavouring to improve your English you should avoid its use altogether, since it is not recognised as being English anywhere - with the exception of the U.S. where it is only recognised as being acceptable colloquially.
Anyways...this site provides an interesting explanation as to where this word may have come from.

I live in England and have also heard it and may have used it a few times. I think it may be a shortening of 'anyways up' which I believe (but am not sure) is a northern English dialect phrase.

The only context I have heard or used it in is a little difficult to explain. It has been used in a rather humorous way, to signify a change of topic, or a return to a topic, after a lengthy or pointless digression/discussion. Or possibly to suggest that the discussion preceeding it has been a bit of a waste of time? It is said in a particular way, with a sort of heavy exhalation.

I think non-native speakers are best to avoid it, it doesn't really serve any essential purpose.
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It is possible the the colloquialism "anyways" came from the English phrase "anywise/any wise" which means "in any manner/way." However, anyways is not acceptable in print, but is becoming more and more prevalent in spoken English. It has also been accepted as a colloquialism since the 19th century.
Simply auful use.
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