Irregardless

Some people hate irregardless. (Spellcheck doesn’t like it, because it’s giving me the squiggly red line right now.) The haters call it illogical, say it’s not a word and hold it up as an example of how the English language is falling apart.

Illogical? Yes. 

Not a word? Meh. 

A sign of the downfall of English? Let’s take a moment to breathe deeply and pull ourselves together.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, here it is: Regardless means “without regard,” in the same way flavorless means “without flavor” and boneless means “without bones.” Meanwhile, the ir– prefix means “not”—as in irregular and irrelevant. So, logically, irregardless must mean “not without regard.” But that’s not what people mean when they say irregardless. They mean to say regardless.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary says the first use of irregardless in print was in 1795. Apparently, this was in a Charleston, South Carolina, newspaper, the City Gazette & Daily Advertiser. Dictionary.com says irregardless appeared in the April 11, 1874, edition of the Portsmouth Times, an Ohio newspaper.

Here’s the 1874 excerpt, part of an editorial: “We supported the six successful candidates for Council in the face of a strong opposition. We were led to do so because we believed every man of them would do his whole duty, irregardless of party, and the columns of this paper for one year has [sic] told what is needed.”

The Oxford American Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary hypothesize that irregardless came about as a blending of irrespective and regardlessIrrespective and regardless are synonyms. It’s possible that, through confusion or thoughtlessness, people combined them to form irregardless.

Regardless of how irregardless came to be, there’s no denying that it exists and that people use it. By the year 2000, it was included in every major dictionary, prompting many critics of irregardless to blame dictionaries for approving its use. But remember, dictionaries don’t approve or control usage. We, the users of English, do that collectively.

Former Merriam-Webster editor Kory Stamper wrote in her blog: “Something that really burns my proverbial biscuits is the musty insistence that dictionaries are the guardians and gatekeepers of the language, and when we enter a word into the Most Sacred Tomes of Webster, we lend it legitimacy.”

As Stamper has explained many times, dictionaries simply record usage. Irregardless must be popping up enough in print for dictionary editors to continue including it.

It’s easy to agree that irregardless makes little to no sense, but let’s not say it isn’t a word. Irregardless is indeed a word. Don’t like it? Don’t use it. Either way, the English language probably won’t fall into a shambles anytime soon. 

Questions? Leave a comment or email dave@thegrammargeek.com.

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