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Regardless Of What You Think, 'Irregardless' Is A Word

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Merriam-Webster raised the hackles of stodgy grammarians last week when it affirmed the lexical veracity of "irregardless."

The word's definition, when reading it, would seem to be: without without regard.

"Irregardless is included in our dictionary because it has been in widespread and near-constant use since 1795," the dictionary's staff wrote in a "Words of the Week" roundup on Friday. "We do not make the English language, we merely record it."

Merriam-Webster defines irregardless as "nonstandard" but meaning the same as "regardless." "Many people find irregardless to be a nonsensical word, as the ir- prefix usually functions to indicates negation; however, in this case it appears to function as an intensifier," the dictionary writes.

"It's not a real word. I don't care what the dictionary says," responds author Michelle Ray, who teaches English in Silver Spring, Md.

"You say 'regardless.' Regardless of the fact," she tells NPR's Morning Edition. "Irregardless means not regardless. And that's not what you're trying to say at all. So why, in what context, would irregardless make sense? I can't understand it."

The brouhaha regarding the word seems to have started last week when a popular Twitter user took umbrage at Merriam-Webster's listing, decrying the death of the English language.

But irregardless was first included in Merriam-Webster's Unabridged edition in 1934, a spokesperson tells NPR. Other dictionaries, including Webster's New World College Dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and the Cambridge Dictionary all recognize irregardless as a word.

It's not new.

The Charleston City Gazette of Charleston, Ga., used it as early as 1795, according to Merriam-Webster: "But death, irregardless of tenderest ties, Resolv'd the good Betty, at length, to bereave."

In 1859, The Baltimore Sun wrote that a man "had endeavored to discharge his duty fearlessly in this case, irregardless of those who may consider this discourse discourteous to the 'Plugs.' "

The Baltimore Sun once again published the word in editor John McIntyre's commentary on Saturday: " 'Irregardless' is too a word; you just don't understand dictionaries."

"People get upset about the dictionary because they think it is some sort of official document," he tells NPR. "And it's not. It's just lexicographers identifying words that people use and trying to find out, well, how are they spelled? How are they pronounced? What meanings do they have? Where did they come from?"

The dictionary's recognition "doesn't enroll a word as correct in the English language," McIntyre says. "It just says this is a word that a lot of people use in English. And here's what we know about it."

So it's a word, but its use is still discouraged in formal writing. In 2016, NPR's standards and practices editor at the time told staff to "just say 'regardless.' " The AP Stylebook calls it a double negative. The American Heritage dictionary notes that a panel of experts "has roundly disapproved of its use."

And Ray says she's still planning to mark "irregardless" as incorrect on her students' work.

Still, there's no need to send angry letters and tweets to the folks at Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries.

McIntyre's solution: "You don't like it? Don't use it."

NPR's Milton Guevara and Steve Mullis produced and edited the audio version of this story. Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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