A Disagreeable Word Posted by Gary Locke on Jul 2, 2020 in English Grammar, English Language, English Vocabulary, Linguistics, Speaking English
Some days you just can’t win. I stumbled upon a posting on social media the other day which had me wondering if there was any hope for the world. I stared at it in disbelief for several moments, then spent maybe 15 minutes in an effort to disprove what I had read. Sadly, it was true. I learned that irregardless is listed in many dictionaries.
Please allow me to explain.
We have a lovely word in English which is defined as, “In spite of current circumstances.” It’s an adverb and is quite commonly used and heard. That word is regardless. It means to have less regard for something than you do for another thing. “Regardless of the weather, I’m going camping this weekend.” In this example, there is less regard for the weather than for a desire to go camping. “You should watch that movie, regardless of the reviews.” Don’t let the reviews of a movie prevent you from watching it. Regardless, therefore, is a negative. It’s like saying, “I don’t care.”
Are you with me, so far?
Somehow, over time, people have taken to adding the prefix ir– to regardless. You will commonly hear someone say, Irregardless when what they really mean is regardless. This is probably an unintentional combination of regardless and irrespective, an adjective defined as “Without consideration.” Despite the fact that one is an adverb and the other is an adjective, their meanings are similar. “Irrespective of the danger, the girl dove into the river to save her dog.”
The prefix –ir is negative, so irregardless becomes a double negative. When two negatives are used together, they cancel each other out. Therefore, to say irregardless is like saying, “I care.” In spite of what is intended by the use of the word irregardless, it is redundant and improper. Most English students are taught that it is not, in fact, a proper word.
Why, then, does irregardless appear in so many dictionaries? Common usage of a word, especially over a long period of time, gives legitimacy to it. It becomes what dictionaries and linguists call a nonstandard word. If standard language is the proper, educated use of the language, nonstandard words are colloquialisms, jargon, and dialectical terms which are understood even if they are improper. They appear in dictionaries because they are recognized as words by many.
But nonstandard words should come with a warning label. If you use them, you are going to sound uneducated. And this is my problem with irregardless finding its way into so many dictionaries. It is nothing more than a mistake, a confusion of two words and their meaning. I understand including colloquialisms in dictionaries. One of the attractions of language is the way words are used in different regions. I would even add that some common vernacular belongs in dictionaries, to demonstrate how certain segments of the population speak based on their shared historical background.
I can’t win this argument. With all of their faults, too many dictionaries and linguists have decided that all types of nonstandard words have their place, regardless of their improper place in the English language.
Or, should I say, irregardless of my opinion?