It’s happened again. An armchair language expert has declared a word to not be a word.
She didn’t look up the word. She didn’t even look up the word “word.” If she had, she’d know that “shizzleschlep,” which I just made up, is a word.
It means, oh, let’s say, “the white schmutzy stuff found floating in your coffee when your creamer is one day past its expiration date.”
True, “shizzleschlep” is not a good word. It’s not a word anyone recognizes. I don’t expect the Oxford English Dictionary to add it anytime soon, nor do I recommend you use it in your speech to the United Nations.
But it clearly meets the criteria for being a word: “a sound or combination of sounds that has a meaning and is spoken or written.”
By any reading of that definition, a made-up word is a word. So an existing word is definitely a word, even if it’s associated with bad English.
Now here comes the part where I lose you. The word I’m defending is “irregardless.”
I know, I know. I’m not saying it’s good. I’m not saying you should use it. I’m not saying you’re wrong to cringe every time you hear it. But it’s a word. More than that, it’s a word recognized by most dictionaries.
Yet a writer for the Alabama news site AL.com is having none of it.
“You’ll never convince me ‘irregardless’ is a word, dictionary lady,” announces the headline of humorist Kelly Kazek’s piece.
Kazek takes aim at an online video by lexicographer Kory Stamper, in which Stamper makes an interesting point about “irregardless.”
In certain dialects, the word has a specific meaning distinct from “regardless.” In those dialects it means, essentially, “I’m ending this discussion.”
The people who use “irregardless” this way don’t use it in place of “regardless.” They might use both in the same conversation, with “regardless” meaning “Here’s a point to the contrary” but “irregardless” meaning “Here’s a point to the contrary and now I’m shutting this down.”
Of course, this is dialectical English, not standard English. For most English speakers, “irregardless” is downright icky.
You could also say “irregardless” is illogical. The prefix “ir” is a form of negation. The suffix “less” has similar properties. So using “irregardless” is a bit like saying someone is unhappinessless. Not good.
“Irregardless” is believed to be a melding of “regardless” with “irrespective” — as if the speaker couldn’t remember they were two different words and accidentally smushed them together.
A lot of words are born through this process, and the result is often ugly.
“Perhaps its reputation as a blend of ill-fitting parts has caused some to insist that it is a ‘nonword,’ a charge they would not think of leveling at a nonstandard word with a longer history, such as ‘ain’t,’” observes the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.
Yet even as they sanction “irregardless,” dictionaries and language guides caution against using it.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary labels it “a nonstandard variant.”
American Heritage offers this commentary on “irregardless”: “It is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing ... It has never been accepted in standard English and is virtually always changed by copy editors to ‘regardless.’ The Usage Panel has roundly disapproved of its use since polling began.”
Even Stamper’s dictionary puts its stamp of disapproval on “irregardless.” “It is still a long way from general acceptance,” Merriam-Webster’s advises. “Use ‘regardless’ instead.”
But amid all the cautions and criticism rings out one unanimous observation about “irregardless,” summed up best by American Heritage: “It is undoubtedly a word.”
JUNE CASAGRANDE is the author of “The Best Punctuation Book, Period.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.