Irregardless

Irregardless

[ir-i-gahrd-lis]
Irregardless is a term meaning in spite of or anyway, that has caused controversy since it first appeared in the early twentieth century. It is generally listed in dictionaries as "incorrect" or "nonstandard".

Origin

The origin of irregardless is not known for certain, but the consensus among references is that it is a blend of irrespective and regardless, both of which are commonly accepted standard English words. By blending these words, an illogical word is created. "Since the prefix ir- means 'not' (as it does with irrespective), and the suffix -less means 'without,' irregardless is a double negative."

Irregardless is primarily found in North America, most notably in Boston and surrounding areas, where for instance, it was used in the title of a poetry evening 'irregardless of content' at The Baron of Srebrenica, primarily to keep it in circulation. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Irregardless was first acknowledged in 1912 by the Wentworth American Dialect Dictionary as originating from western Indiana. Barely a decade later, the usage dispute over irregardless was such that, in 1923, Literary Digest published an article titled "Is There Such a Word as Irregardless in the English Language?"

Appearance in reference books

One way to follow the progress of and sentiments toward irregardless is by studying how it is described in references throughout the twentieth century. Webster’s New International Dictionary (2nd. Ed. Unabridged) described the word as an erroneous or humorous form of regardless, and attributed it to the United States. Although irregardless was beginning to make its way into the American lexicon, it still was not universally recognized and was missing completely from Fowler's Modern English Usage, published in 1965, nor is irregardless mentioned under the entry for regardless therein. In the last twenty-five years, irregardless has become a common entry in dictionaries and usage reference books. It appears in a wide range of dictionaries including: Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (1961, repr. 2002), The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology (1988), The American Heritage Dictionary (Second College Edition, 1991), Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary (2001), and Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition, 2004).

Australian linguist Pam Peters (The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, 2004) suggests that irregardless has become fetishized, since natural examples of this word in corpora of written and spoken English are greatly outnumbered by examples where it is in fact only cited as an incorrect term.

Prescriptive vs. descriptive

The approach taken by lexicographers when documenting a word's uses and limitations can be prescriptive or descriptive. The method used with irregardless is overwhelmingly prescriptive. Much of the criticism comes from the illogical double negative pairing of the prefix (ir-) and suffix (-less), and the argument that irregardless is not, or should not be, a word at all because it lacks the antecedents of a "bona fide nonstandard word." A counterexample is provided in ain't, which has an "ancient genealogy," at which scholars would not dare level such criticisms.

Irregardless in popular culture

  • In the Family Guy episode "Lois Kills Stewie" (Part 2), Stewie threatens to consign anyone who uses irregardless to a work camp.
  • In a second season episode ("Irregarding Steve") of American Dad, Steve Smith and Roger the alien make fun of Stan Smith when he uses the term. Steve remarks, "Irregardless? That's not even a real word. You're affixing the negative prefix 'ir-' to 'regardless', but, as 'regardless' is already negative, it's a logical absurdity!"
  • In the 2006 film Puff, Puff, Pass the two main characters frequently correct people for using the word irregardless and hilarity ensues.

References

  1. Soukhanov, Anne H., ed. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 3rd Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
  2. Partridge, Eric, ed. Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. New York: Macmillan, 1966.
  3. Barnhart, Robert K., ed. The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology. H. W. Wilson Company, 1988.
  4. Rooney, Dr. Kathy, ed. Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.
  5. Murray, James, et al., eds. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd Ed. Vol. VIII. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  6. [[Henry Watson Fowler|Fowler, H[enry] W[atson]]], and Sir Ernest Gowers, eds. Fowler's Modern English Usage. 2nd Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.
  7. Gove, Phillip B., ed. Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1981.
  8. Berube, Margery S., ed. The American Heritage Dictionary. 2nd College Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
  9. Agnes, Michael, ed. Webster's New World College Dictionary. 4th Ed. Cleveland, Ohio: Wiley Publishing, 2004.
  10. Skeat, W. W., ed. Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910.
  11. Kipfer, Barbara Ann, ed. Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus. New York: Dell Publishing, 1992.
  12. Flerner, Stuart and Jess Stein, eds. The Random House Thesaurus. College Ed. New York: Random House, 1984.
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