Irregardless is a word that doesn’t truly exist in the English language, yet gets used with such frequency. The correct term is regardless, but there are countless situations where native English speakers feel the need to substitute irregardless in its place. Why? Why has this term snuck into English and how did it manage to solidly sew itself into the fabric of our language?
According to my handy New Oxford English Dictionary, irregardless is an adjective & an adverb, is used informally within the English language, and its origin is most likely the early 20th century, where it was born from a combination of the words “irrespective” and “regardless.” How shocking. My New Oxford was also hip enough to provide a definition for irregardless, simply: regardless. Having exhausted the information in my dictionary, I turned to the vast expanse of the Web for more information, determined to get to the bottom of this literary mystery.
Apparently, although irregardless has been eliciting controversy since the early 20th century, sources state that irregardless has appeared in print as early as 1795… It is even worse than I thought. Also, unlike my New Oxford which is non-judgmental, most dictionaries list irregardless as simply “nonstandard” or “incorrect.” How rude. The word has been mostly attributed to North America, where it seems that we are the only people uneducated enough to use it. The officially unofficial birthplace of irregardless is Indiana, although the word was used in South Carolina prior to Indiana becoming a state. Doesn’t really make it any better, does it?
Irregardless was first acknowledged as an informal word in the Wentworth American Dialect Dictionary in 1912, according to Wikipedia, who took its information from the Oxford English Dictionary. It then appeared in an unabridged version of Webster’s New International Dictionary, in 1934, where irregardless was described as “an erroneous or humorous form of ‘regardless'”, and once again attributed to the States. Lately, its appearance in dictionaries and reference books merely list irregardless as a word synonymous with regardless, along with mentioning that it is informal or nonstandard English. My favourite is Merriam-Webster’s definition: “use regardless instead.” Succinct, ain’t it?
Even though the actual meaning of irregardless is in fact “regardless”, the appearance of the word would state it is not so. In English, the prefix ir- means “not”, & the suffix -less indicates “without”, therefore the ACTUAL meaning of irregardless would be “in regards too.” Irregardless is kind of like a one word double negative. Meaning that irregardless is not synonymous with regardless but should actually carry the opposite meaning. English… I tell ya.
Apparently, the widespread use of the term “irregardless” has been born from its widespread use. The term is known to be incorrect, and has been recorded as such, but as long as people continue to use it, its use will continue to prevail. Basically, regardless of how often you hear the term “irregardless,” keep in mind it is an inappropriate use of the English language, and to use it makes you sound just as uneducated as those who don’t use it would like us to be.
Until next time… sarah.
“New Oxford American Dictionary” Oxford University Press. 2010. Web. October 20 2012
“Irregardless”, www.wikipedia.org, Web. October 20 2012.