Saturday, July 12, 2008

Irregardless

The most frequent statement about the word “irregardless” is that it is not a word. But recently a friend’s daughter had the embarrassing experience of making this statement and being proved wrong, none too politely, by another youthful dictionary wielder.

Yes, the word irregardless is in the dictionary. But then, so is “ain’t.” And so is “leastways.” And so is “nother” as in “a whole nother story.”

What gives? Are they just letting any old thing into the dictionary these days? The truth is, if people use an expression enough in both spoken and written form, it will eventually turn up in Webster’s—even if it is considered wrong.

How, then, are we supposed to know whether it is ok to use these words in our business documents and publications? The answer is in the usage labels and usage notes that accompany problematic words in the dictionary.

“Irregardless” bears the usage label “nonstand” in Webster’s. This italicized label means that this word is not considered a part of standard English. Both the dictionary and two “usage guides” I consulted simply stated that “regardless” should be used instead. Microsoft Word put in its two cents by marking the word with red underlining as I typed it and offering “regardless” as the correct spelling.

The upshot? Read the label. Many words in the dictionary are labeled as slang, obs (obsolete), dial (dialect), chiefly Southwest, or Austral or Canad or Brit (meaning mostly used in those countries or regions), or even as usually vulgar or obscene. If a word has one of these labels, do not use it in your professional writing.

“Ain’t”? Considered nonstandard except in popular expressions such as “Say it ain’t so.” “Leastways”? Labeled as dialect. “Nother”? Used chiefly in speech or informal prose. And “irregardless”? Yes, it is a word, but it is a word with a bad reputation. Don’t use it.

Don’t have time to look it up or don’t always have a three-pound, hard-cover dictionary in your hip pocket? On the internet you can check Merriam-Webster Online at m-w.com

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