There was a recent kerfuffle regarding the use of the incorrect word “irregardless.” A cable news talking head used the malapropism on a morning news program, and then a social media skirmish ensued. Merriam Webster deigned to weigh in, stating with finality that “irregardless” is indeed a word. But what exactly does it signify to say that “irregardless” is a word?
“Irregardless” was used by Nicole Wallace on MSNBC:
NW: ... I know from your view and your inside knowledge of DOJ that they are not oblivious to this, but they do what they do irregardless of the political wins. But tell me what kind of toll the rhetoric of the riot is taking on this investigation and these professionals?
Several viewers tweeted that this was incorrect, which is when Merriam Webster stepped in to respond:
The weasel word Merriam Webster uses to describe irregardless is “nonstandard.” They haughtily pronounced: “It appears that someone used the word regardless…” Despite the authoritative veneer of a dictionary, those behind Merriam Webster are in fact all too human.
Here is a good point to pause and explain why “irregardless” is wrong: The assimilated prefix “ir” comes from “in,” meaning in this case “not.” The suffix “less” means “without.” “Regardless,” then, means in a sense, “without regard.” “Irregardless” can be thought of as a double negative within one word: “not without regard.”
By the way, the point of this blog post is not to be cute and enter a fun little social media debate. There really is something wrong with Merriam Webster. They have been on my radar for years.
There really is something wrong with Merriam Webster.
Merriam Webster does not like the idea of calling bad grammar “wrong”; instead, only that it “might want to be avoided”:
Once Merriam Webster fallaciously bestowed legitimacy on “irregardless,” the response to their tweet was mostly embarrassing: People deferred to them by virtue of the fact that “the dictionary said it.” They fail to realize that the dictionary is currently helmed by all-too-fallible human beings with some fairly leftist views on grammar in the case of Merriam Webster and its editors.
The only difference between regardless and irregardless, Merriam Webster’s social media goes on to explain, is that people “like to shriek and guffaw” when “irregardless” is used.
Merriam Webster actually enjoys irritating people who have traditional, common sense notions of right and wrong in grammar. The integrity of the English language does not particularly matter to them. They prefer a relativistic approach to language and grammar; one could call it deconstructivist. Essentially, it is a similar virus which has infected so many fields of study. Why shouldn’t the dictionary be next to fall?
Indeed, the general public’s responses to Merriam Webster is depressing. Behold how most of humanity will take the word of any authority figure at face value. How little we question their premises!
Many twitter intellectuals brought up “inflammable” as a comparison to “irregardless.” Neither one makes sense, yet it’s all good, they suggested. They mistakenly believe that the prefix “in” in “inflammable” means “not”; whereas in fact it simply means “in.” They failed to realize that the prefix “in” has more than one meaning. If only they took a second from their vicious attacks to learn…
Nonetheless, they believe “inflammable” is an example of how English makes no sense anyway, and it is futile to try to abide by rules. Prefixes and suffixes are completely arbitrary, there is no right and wrong! To make such an obvious mistake not only disproves their nihilistic approach to language but it makes them rightfully the objects of scorn!
This bitter “irregardless” debate hinges on a conception of a prescriptivist approach to grammar verses a descritiptivist. These are the terms that are bandied about with no little amount of pride by these online intellectuals; how they savor such terminology. Below is an incisive description of the two terms:
The prescriptivist says words have fixed definitions, and using them in ways that aren’t in the dictionary is misuse. The descriptivist says that words mean whatever people choose them to mean. Few people take a pure position at one end or the other. Prescriptivists face the fact that dictionaries change. Descriptivists can’t treat every neologism they hear as part of the language if they expect people to understand each other. The debate is over how much legitimacy a word needs before it’s considered standard. Words pass through the stage of slang or jargon before they reach full citizenship. Some words don’t go beyond that status, and they don’t have to. Professions need their jargon and subcultures need their slang, and they don’t have to impose it on the whole linguistic community.
It sounds reasonable enough, a healthy tug and pull in our conception of language, which does indeed very slowly change over time. Yet the so-called descriptivists take this as to mean that nothing is ever wrong in language because however people choose to use a word is “correct” simply by the fact that that’s how they are using it. It is a specious logic, if it can be called logic at all. Taken to its logical conclusion, we would not even understand each other if we were all pure descriptivists. Is it really so reactionary to ask that we communicate with each other with a shared understanding of the rules of English?
The subtext here is a dislike of authority and hierarchy. Merriam Webster is on the left wing when it comes to language and grammar; their editors make their political feelings clear enough. They like to shove it in your face. It’s time to call them out and shed their robes of fake authority. Do not be intimidated because “they’re the dictionary.”
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