As a former high school English teacher, I have been known to be a bit of a stickler for proper word usage and grammar. Now, I’m not one of those people who will correct everyone’s posts on social media (at least publicly). But, when I saw a recent discussion on Twitter regarding the shock over the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s official recognition of the word “irregardless,” it caught my attention.
First, I need to note that my computer‘s spell-check program just underlined the controversial word. So, our current technology doesn’t necessarily agree with Merriam-Webster.
The latest outrage over the inclusion of irregardless in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary actually started on Twitter earlier this summer. A tweet (now deleted, apparently) from a popular Twitter personality had others weighing in on the topic — including Merriam-Webster. One specific response, from celebrity Jamie Lee Curtis a few days later, expressed horror over the word’s inclusion in the dictionary and went viral:
In case you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, Merriam-Webster just officially recognized “irregardless” as a word.😱
— Jamie Lee Curtis (@jamieleecurtis) July 6, 2020
For the record, I don’t think we need to be looking for ways to make 2020 worse, but that’s for another post.
Despite the original tweet being more than three months old, people continue to debate the topic. Merriam-Webster has continued to defend its position, too, both on social media and elsewhere. So, the English teacher geek in me decided to do a little research about the word.
Of course, I went directly to the source of the controversy. Let’s take a look at Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s official entry:
- irregardless (adverb); definition of irregardless: REGARDLESS; nonstandard
Yes, irregardless is one of those confusing words that has the same meaning as a word within it.
Sure, it’s repetitive, but it’s not the only word in our language that does this.
For example, there’s the word inflammable. The official definition of inflammable is … wait for it … flammable. Basically, “capable of being easily ignited and of burning quickly.”
Some grammar geeks’ brains can’t handle words like this. After all, they are considered incorrect English, but are now acceptable linguistically simply because they’ve become so common in our language over time. Could we simply say regardless? Of course. But, through the years, our culture added those two extra letters and created a new word.
Don’t believe it? Despite the recent social media arguments, irregardless is not a new invention by Millenials or Gen Z-ers. Nope, we can’t blame them.
When making a case for the word back in July 2020 as a “Word of the Week”, Merriam-Webster cited more than two dozen examples of published uses for irregardless, including one dating back to 1795 in The Charleston City Gazette in South Carolina.
The key to words like irregardless is the notation made in Merriam-Webster’s entry: nonstandard. It’s Nonstandard English and is not recommended for formal writing. However, it is commonly used in our day-to-day conversations. That’s how it got into dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster’s unabridged edition as far back as 1934, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, and the Cambridge Dictionary in the first place.
“We do not make the English language, we merely record it,” Merriam-Webster wrote. “If people use a word with consistent meaning, over a broad geographic range, and for an extended period of time chances are very high that it will go into our dictionary.”
So, while English teachers and guardians of good grammar may bristle at the word, irregardless is, in fact, an officially recognized word — regardless of their opinions on the subject.