One wonders if some experts say it to get attention.
I was irritated when the lexicographer Cory Stamp, author of the popular book Word by Word, asserted in the New York Times that “irregardless” is a word. And I was bored when Penny Modra, a “grammar enthusiast”with dubious credentials, said in a recent article in The Guardian that people will be disappointed if they want her to “solemnly rule that ‘irregardless’ is not a word.”
That’s all very cute. Really. And doubtless it sells dictionaries, popular books, and newspapers. But why pretend “irregardless” is acceptable? The editors of The New York Times and The Guardian use the correct form “regardless,” except in cute articles about grammar divas.
I am sure many of you, like me, are traditionalists. We want to speak and write as well as we can. If we say “irregardless,” we have a problem: we have a double negative. The prefix “in-” (“ir-” in front of the letter “r”) means “not.” The suffix “-less”also means “not.” So “irregardless” means “having regard; heedful, mindful (of),” or “with concern to advice or warning.” It means the opposite of what you intended. “Regardless” means “having no regard; heedless, unmindful (of)”; or an adverb meaning “without concern as to adcive or warning.” (Ex. They told the lie regardless.) The word you want is “regardless.”
These days Cory Stamp and Penny Modra trawl Twitter and allow the illiterati to determine grammar and invent silly new words. I can understand reading newspapers to find new words. But Twitter is not about words, is it?
The Roman poet Horace spoke about the introduction of new words to Latin poetry. In The Art of Poetry (Ars Poetica), Horace writes about the need for poets to choose an appropriate style for their subject matter. And he also talks very specifically about the changes in language. He says he is not opposed to new words, “if they fall from a Greek source and are only slightly changed.” Of course that is quite a bit stricter than the liberal changes via Twitter.
Horace continues, “It always has been and always will be acceptable/ to produce a word stamped by the present mint-mark./ As leaves in forests change in the fleeting years,/ and the first leaves fall, so the old age of words dies,/and like young men new words bloom and flourish.”
Words change, but Horace wants poets to keep the Greek in mind.
Here’s Horace’s Latin:
…Licuit semperque licebit
signatum praesente nota producere nomen.
Ut silvae foliis pronos mutantur in annos, 60
prima cadunt, ita verborum vetus interit aetas,
et iuvenum ritu florent modo nata vigentque.