Of course, with all the sorrow and trauma that befell our 2020, there were some smaller items you may have missed, and one of those occurred in early July. I think the perpetrators of what I think amounts to linguistic mayhem thought they’d slip one past those of us who’ve always embraced the English language for its beauty and exactitude while we were paying attention to our grills and fretting over whether the Kingsfords were just right for cooking those burgers.
To be honest, I may have missed it myself, were it not for a dear friend of mine, Bob Riepenhoff, who sent me the disturbing news from his home in Cincinnati via a text. The decision of which he wanted me to be aware was that the dictionary folks from Merriam-Webster, who I’ve always seen as the guardians of proper Americanized English, have decided to include in their new edition irregardless as an entry along with the previously accepted regardless.
Certainly this has raised the hairs on the back of my neck as well as the collective necks of many, many others, no doubt. According to the link that Bob sent, the justification to include it, in a statement issued by the dictionary, is as follows: “Irregardless is included in our dictionary because it has been widespread and near constant use since 1795. …We do not make the English language, we merely record it.”
Hmmm, sounds to me like a copout that actually includes a comma-splice error as well after my ellipsis. First of all, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot that’s unacceptable out there that has been around since 1795 and even earlier. The fact that something has been around a long time doesn’t suddenly legitimize it. I mean, really, Adam and Eve’s Original Sin, which, of course, predates both Merriam-Webster’s first dictionary in 1828 and also the arbitrarily selected year of 1795 by, oh, I don’t know, say, before the beginning of the world? And yet, we really haven’t decided that bite-of-the-apple moment suddenly isn’t all that big a deal, right?
And, as for that we-don’t-make-the-language-we-just-record-it line, well, I’m not buying that one either. Ever since my first school days, I have entrusted Noah Webster, the publisher of the first truly American dictionary, and his successors to separate the vernacular chaff from the wheat.
As for the inclusion of irregardless, well, I think it puts a stamp of approval on a most unnecessary prefix. While ir is both acceptable and necessary to convey the opposite of such adjectives as regular, rational and reversible, it’s hardly necessary for regardless. So, when you say “Regardless of the weather, I’m going,” isn’t the intention clear? Adding the ir, therefore, would actually mean “not regardless” which, of course, is not what the narrator is trying to say!
In much the same way that another language no-no, the double negative, actually unintentionally reverses the meaning (as in “I don’t have no money” actually means the narrator DOES have money), the nonsensical irregardless is contradictory as well.
My former students, I hope, recall my feelings about any form of the double negative unless, of course, it’s used for metrical purposes in a song lyric, which is why I don’t have a problem with the 77-year-old Mick Jagger when he still struts the stage and belts out, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”
I know, I know, I may be making a bit too big of a deal out of this in these challenging pandemic times, but I still think it’s important enough to spend a few hundred words on the subject this week during my scribbles. And, it bothers me as much as other language-related concessions I’ve seen society make in the last several years, such as that horrible decision many school districts made a while back to forego teaching the little tykes cursive! I’m not sure I’m very happy with a world that will feature a next generation that’ll think the cursive capital “Q” is a really big numeral “2”!
Whenever such concessions are made, whether it be trivializing proper apostrophe placements, the distinction that should be made between who and whom or allowing a superfluous and contradictory prefix to be granted admission into the language, well, when it comes to elocution, I think it’s another case of linguistic death by a thousand cuts.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.