“Irregardless” Is Not a Word

“Irregardless” is not a word.

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.

10 thoughts on ““Irregardless” Is Not a Word

  1. If I am not sure of a usage of one of those hundreds of repeated pointer, glue, link, common adverbial expressions, gerunds and many other things, I use Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 2nd edition, as revised by Gowers. I usually find the “rule” he offers improves my sentence: he gets rid of clutter, of indeterminate unnecessary slang that adds nothing; my sentence becomes shorter, more concise, built grammatically firmer.

    What bothers me is the incessant use of incredible; it’s worse than totally awesome but somehow has not attracted attention the way scattering verys in your prose does. Ideally no word should be put down you are not sure of and you don’t need or have a grasp on its precise meaning denotatively.

    People have been forgetting what disinterested means: not uninteresting but unbiased.

  2. To say that irregardless is not a word is to ignore its existence. It is a word, but not an acceptable word. We can make new words all the time, but that does not mean they have to be understood or used. The gate keepers to acceptability have long been a subject for contention. Each time a new dictionary comes out the argument starts up again.

    • Yes, but I do want to be dramatic and say it’s not a word.:) My old dictionary says “irregardless” is “non-standard.” The new entry online for Merriam-Webster makes my head spin: it is propaganda for a misused word. At the very end it says to use regardless, thank God!

      • Yes, and I guess I want to be dramatic too. I wish we could wish out of existence those words that offend us! When we speak, and especially when we write, we convey more than information. “I ain’t got no pencil” conveys meaning just as clearly as “I have no pencil”, but conveys more about the speaker than the lack of a pencil.

        • Grammar is an equalizer: knowing the difference between correct and incorrect usage certainly helps in the job world as well as in conversation and writing. Perhaps today’s teachers do not know grammar, because there is now a silly idea that ignorance is the equal of knowledge. But linguists have studied these changes in language for many, many years: the dropping of “whom,” using “between you and I” instead of the correct “between you and me,” etc. Still, they continue to use correct grammar!

  3. I’m with you. If there’s a need for a new word, fine. Something’s just been invented or discovered and we need a name for it, fine. Using existing words incorrectly and then accepting them into common (incorrect) usage, not fine. I realize this has happened down through history, but we have an almost endless and nuanced language, no need to misuse what we have. New words or phrases (“I could care less” when they mean the opposite.) coined by people who have little grasp of the language make me seethe. I was doing a crossword puzzle the other day and the clue was ‘full of gaps’. The answer was ‘gappy’, which I can’t find in any dictionary. Adding a ‘y’ or ‘ful’ or ‘ir’ does not make an acceptable new word! If it does, please educate me.

    • Gappy? That’s new to me! Oh, I had forgotten about “I could care less.” I don’t know what is going through the heads of people who defend errors. Everybody has the right to learn correct usage!

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