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.