Irregardless of your distaste for it…

It’s about time I dealt with something from the request queue. Today’s word, then, is irregardless. And it pains me to have to discuss it.

Because, sadly, it is a real word.

It’s not a very good word, and my advice would be to avoid it, but it’s a word all the same. I know that simply acknowledging that it’s a “real” word will make a lot of people cringe – I’d be willing to bet money that this one’s on a lot of pet peeve lists – fingernails on the verbal chalkboard.

The OED cites it as in use since at least 1912, and flags it as non-standard and humorous. They note it as “chiefly N. American,” which might be just a bit condescending. In my personal experience, about half of the times I’ve encountered it have involved Brits. But I acknowledge that as unscientific and potentially biased.

AP Style is dismissive of the word: “A double negative. Regardless is correct.” Despite AP’s widespread use and its status in the journalistic community, the more I dig into it the less impressed I am. (I’ll post comments about my general and specific impressions of it at some point.)

The AHD5 includes irregardless, but makes less of a value judgement, calling it simply “nonstandard” for regardless.

Which is exactly what it is: a wordy, nonstandard, probably ignorant substitution for regardless. I’m willing to go further and propose that the humorous use noted by the OED probably came second. Most likely, writers were capturing it in print to poke fun at those who used it in speech. Those folks were probably using it out of ignorance or, I imagine, a certain kind of pretension. Exactly the sort of bad academic English that Orwell was carping about in Politics and the English Language, or that Macrorie lampooned as Engfish in The Poison Fish.

One thing that’s a little surprising in both of the dictionary entries cited above (as opposed to AP) is that neither cautions against using it. I’d call that very good descriptivism, but it totally fails to capture the social baggage of the word. You don’t want to use “ain’t” or “y’all” in formal writing, since they’re red flags that you’re probably ignorant (or at least careless). Likewise, you should avoid irregardless in just about any written context. You might not be ignorant – but a lot of readers will assume that you are. Which might as well be the same thing.

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About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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3 Responses to Irregardless of your distaste for it…

  1. Steve Gantt says:

    You still never said why it’s a REAL word. Is it because it’s listed and defined in some “dictionaries?” While you urge us to avoid it, and suggest shying away from it, etc., you don’t say, “don’t use it;” why is that? Is it because the same reason you say it it a real word? E. g., “..if it’s a real word, you must be allowed to use it?”

    • Steve –
      My definition of a “real” word is pretty lenient: any word that exists and has a recognized meaning. Being in the dictionary adds weight, but that’s not the only criteria.
      As long as there is some group of people who use and accept that word, it’s “real.” That doesn’t make it a good word, or even a word that you should use if you expect to be taken seriously. Consider: “ain’t,” “y’all,” “irregardless,” “warez,” “abbrevs,” “bromance,” and god only knows how many others. In many situations, if you used these, you’d give the wrong impression (outside of writing for humor). And yet…”real” words they remain.
      About the only words that aren’t “real” in this sense are those that one person, or a very small group, make up. And even some of those can come screaming out of nowhere to become very real and very-well established practically overnight (come back on Monday to read my post on one such word).
      When I’m on the job as an editor or instructor, I’m perfectly comfortable to step in and say “no, don’t do that: that’s bad usage.” That’s because of matters of style and formality and audience expectations. But my natural tendency is to observe how we use the language, not to enforce arbitrary rules.
      If that doesn’t clear up my position, consider this: if we didn’t allow new uses, new forms, and entirely new words, our language would look and sound entirely different. Your comment above would not have been recognized as English, in syntax or vocabulary, if the language had been locked in place 1000 years ago. All words and their definitions have to start somewhere. Chances are that irregardless will never be recognized as standard; but it’s probably not going away, either.
      – Chris

  2. Pingback: Will “self-deportation” self-immolate? | thebettereditor

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