MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, July 24th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham.
Up next, George Grant with this month’s edition of Word Play.
GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: By now you may have seen the meme that complains, “Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, Merriam-Webster has recognized irregardless as a word.”
While irregardless has long been the bane grammar-sticklers and thesis-graders everywhere, the word has actually been included in Merriam-Webster’s Unabridgededition since 1934—albeit, as an erroneous or humorous conflation of irrespective and regardless.
According to the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary, irregardless was first acknowledged in 1912 by the Wentworth American Dialect Dictionary as an irregular, rural colloquialism originating from western Indiana. But, sleuthing etymologists have found evidence that the word appeared in print in South Carolina as early as 1795. Most dictionaries today list it as slang: non-standard or incorrect usage.
The reason the word is considered irregular is that both its prefix, ir, and its suffix, less, convey the idea of being without. It is a double negative, or what grammarians call a redundancy. Redundancies are terms or expressions that say the same thing twice—echoing needlessly and often clumsily. Common English usage is actually cluttered with a host of such redundancies.
Maybe you have heard a few of these—or perhaps, you have even used them: free gift, closed fist, repeat again, and armed gunman; Or foreign imports, final destination, first discovered, and revert back.
Then there is advance planning and end result. There is past experience and sworn affidavit. There is the cameo appearance and the head honcho. There is the old adage and the oft-repeated cliché. Technology has given us ATM machines, UPC codes, software programs, and RAM memory. And what about, adequate enough, summarize briefly, aid and abet, unexpected surprise, and sum total? Redundancies abound!
There are even a number of all too common single-word redundancies like: forewarn and preplan, intermingle and overexaggerate, or self-confessed and intermarriage.
Irregardless may incur the odium of high-minded grammaristas and eagle-eyed grammandos everywhere, but it is hardly the worst of these inelegant constructions. Even so, as George Orwell quipped, “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” So, by all means, let’s!
I’m George Grant.