I stumbled across an article about actress Jamie Lee Curtis and the word ‘irregardless’ that prompted terror in grammar enthusiasts.
Do dictionaries consider irregardless to be a word or don’t they? Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, known for her role in the Halloween thrillers, inspired a bit of bonafide terror this year.
Back in June, she took to Twitter and claimed Merriam-Webster “officially” recognized the non-word as a word.
I’m not sure why people are so obsessed with this non-word to begin with. It isn’t a valid word. People mistakenly use it all the time when they simply mean to say regardless.
I think it’s most likely a case of confusing the words regardless and irrespective. But if you think about it, regardless means “without regard.” When you add that little suffix, ir– to the start, you’ve created a double negative and are now saying “not without regard.”
It’s sort of like people who mistakenly say “I could care less” when they’re talking about something in which they have no interest. No, they mean to say they couldn’t care less. If they could care less, then obviously they do care at least a little.
But did Merriam-Webster really endorse the word?
TruthOrFiction.com investigated the claim just last week when the tweet came to their attention. They included the actual dictionary listing that does indeed define irregardless.
But hold the phone: That doesn’t mean the dictionary is promoting the word’s use.
We have to remember that dictionaries help people understand what words mean. In some cases, dictionaries define what non-words mean. Why? Well, when a word is mistakenly used often enough, people still need to understand what’s being said. That means that some colloquialisms that should never be uttered wind up being present so people can understand what the speaker meant to say.
This time last year, there was a furor over the non-word whatevs being listed in an online dictionary. Whatevs, a pointless abbreviation of whatever, is a sign of such absurd laziness that it should warrant a swift smack. But if enough people use the little buzzword, those who’ve (fortunately) not yet encountered it still need to know what it means.
Sometimes, words that are considered non-words make their way into mainstream English. Take the word alright, which some have long considered a non-word. Merriam-Webster notes the long-running debate. But it also notes that its use goes back so far that it has become more and more common when people might otherwise have used the two word “preferred” variant, all right.
Another non-word you’ll find in the dictionary is conversate, an unfortunate construction no one should ever have created to begin with. You don’t “conversate” when you talk with someone: you converse with them. It likely appeared out of an effort to sound more formal than the speaker actually was.
But in the dictionary, you’ll find something in common with irregardless and conversate. The listings include the word nonstandard, which means those words aren’t words.