Merriam-Webster raised the tempers of pompous grammarians last week when it affirmed the linguistic authenticity of “irregardless.”
The definition of the word, when reading it, seems to be: without without regard.
“The word Irregardless is included in our dictionary because it’s been in widespread and near-constant use since 1795,” said a member of the dictionary’s staff . “We don’t make the English language, we merely record it.”
Merriam-Webster’s definition of irregardless is “nonstandard” but means the same as “regardless.” “Many people find irregardless to be a senseless word, as the ir– prefix generally functions to indicate negation; although, in this case, it appears to function as an intensifier,” writes dictionary staff.
“It’s not a real word. I don’t care what the dictionary says,” says author Michelle Ray, an English teacher from Silver Spring, Maryland.
“You should say ‘regardless.’ Regardless of the fact,” she responds. “Irregardless means not regardless. And that is not what you are trying to say at all. So how, in what context, would irregardless make sense? I can’t understand it.”
The uproar regarding the word seems to have begun last week when a popular Twitter user took offense at Merriam-Webster‘s listing, criticizing the death of the English language.
Even so, irregardless was first included in Merriam-Webster‘s Unabridged edition in 1934, a spokesperson for the dictionary reports. Other dictionaries, like Webster’s New World College Dictionary, among others recognize irregardless as a word. It is not new.
According to Merriam-Webster, The Charleston City Gazette of Charleston, Ga., used it as early as 1795: “But death, irregardless of tenderest ties, Resolv’d the good Betty, at length, to bereave.”
The Baltimore Sun wrote in 1859, that a man “had endeavored to discharge his duty fearlessly in this case, irregardless of those who may consider this discourse discourteous to the ‘Plugs.’ “
The Baltimore Sun published the word once again in editor John McIntyre’s commentary: ” ‘Irregardless’ is too a word; you just don’t understand dictionaries.“
“People will get upset about the dictionary because they think that it’s some sort of official document,” he says. “And it’s not. It’s just lexicographers identifying words that people use and trying to find out, well, how are they spelled? How are they pronounced? What meanings do they have? Where did they come from?”
The dictionary’s recognition “does not enroll a word as correct in the English language,” says McIntyre. “It just says that this is a word a lot of people use in English. And here is what we know about it.”
So it is a word, but its use is still dissuaded in formal writing. In 2016, the standards and practices editor at NPR told the staff to “please just say ‘regardless.’ ” The AP Stylebook still calls it a double negative. The American Heritage dictionary points out that an expert “has roundly disapproved of its use.”
And English teacher Michelle Ray says she still plans to mark “irregardless” as incorrect on her students’ work.
Even still, there’s no need to send any angry letters to the employees of Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries.
McIntyre’s solution: “You don’t like it? Don’t use it.”
Related: Now read about the newly-found use of the word “unctuous”
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