Thinking that I'm too laissez faire about all things grammar and usage?


Time to meet Kory Stampfer, associate editor at Merriam-Webster, for the skinny on the best-avoided word irregardless. Click on the picture to hear Merriam-Webster's official position (or lack thereof) on this troublesome word.

My advice to students is to avoid using irregardless. Yes, it's in the dictionary. (I had one Army captain drive 20-some miles during a lunch period to grab his dictionary from home just to show me that it's listed there, as if that would compel me to stop discouraging its use. He was wrong. Poor guy.) But that's not the point. Dictionaries serve primarily a descriptive purpose, not a normative one. As Kory points out, people forget that dictionary publishers are fundamentally lexicographers; they describe our language based on usage, not prescription or ideal.

It's a humorous error like a malapropism or spoonerism, and the people you want to impress won't take you seriously.

So just because it's in the dictionary, and some people are using the word, doesn't mean it's acceptable for educated folk. Case in point: For every one person who says "irregardless," there are 1000 who say "ain't." You won't see that many arms swing open to welcome ain't, so why should you expect a warm welcome for irregardless?

I'm sure you're wondering why I, your champion, seem to be siding with the grammar bullies on this one.

I want my students to pass themselves off as educated people, and the truth is, educated people aren't fooled by this word. They know it's a mistake, a Frankenstein word concocted by people who wanted to say "irrespective" and snarled it up with the synonym "regardless." It's a humorous error like a malapropism or spoonerism, and the people you want to impress won't take you seriously (like, e.g., Joe Jefferson).

Besides, when I tell you to ignore some grammar bully's supposed "rule," I give you what I think is a pretty good reason. I don't have a reason for using the word irregardless, other than it seems to be catching on in some malinformed circles, which is most certainly not a good reason.

And it's not just Kory and I. The American Heritage Dictionary points out that its vaunted Usage Panel—a terrific (and, yes, normative) feature that makes that dictionary well worth consulting—has never endorsed the word; it has always "roundly disapproved" of the word (a 90-percent disapproval rating in 2012). And they further point out that professional editors "virtually always" correct the word when an author tries to slip it in.

So for the budding professional, the Squid's advice is: Don't say "irregardless." It impresseth not.


Notice that I didn't take irregardless to task for being a double negative. I shy away from wagging my finger at double negatives and people who use the word "ironic" incorrectly, because I find that, 80 percent of the time, those who wag their fingers at such things don't fully understand either of those concepts and dork it up themselves.

This article satisfies Squid Commo Objective (SCO) #4

- Don't make your alma mater look bad