by Dr. Perse Nickety
WATERS: At the Center for English as a First Language, I started as a research fellow. One of my favorite projects was tracing the origin of the gratuitous use of waters. As a bonus, I might formulate a guide to its proper use. To the best of my knowledge, this has never been done.
For a basic reference, I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary, which devotes pages to water with no separate entry for waters, as if it doesn't deserve acknowledgement as a real word.
However, waters is covered in the entries for water, and its uses tend to fall into three main categories. First, "The plural is often used...with reference to flowing water or to water moving in waves." I had never noticed this. The raging waters of the Atlantic, the waters of the Hudson and all that.
I'd prefer the raging Atlantic and the Hudson, having been taught that simple language is better language. We know the Atlantic and the Hudson are made of water, thank you very much.
Waters also tends to get used "in a figurative context," says the OED. To me, that means when you want to sound poetic. Spare me. Speak plain English, please.
And third, waters is often used to refer to "the seas and oceans in a particular quarter of the globe." Quarter? Why quarter? Why not "the waters of the world?
Which leads me to a proposal for a guideline. Let's make water/waters analogous to people/peoples and fish/fishes. Why not? Use waters to refer to more than one distinct body of water.
Otherwise, it's all water under the bridge.