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Friday, April 16, 2021

Carry on regardless

The dreadful double negative “irregardless” is given sanction by Merriam-Webster, and old fault lines resurface.

By: Editorial |
July 8, 2020 3:16:32 am
coronavirus, covid 19, coronavirus lockdown, india lockdown, indian express But language researchers argue that the validity of a word should not be judged by its logical consistency.

The illogical Americanism “irregardless” has been irritating teachers and purists for over a hundred years, and now they are fit to be tied because the Merriam-Webster dictionary suggests that it is a legitimate word. It is the boojum of double negatives, whose use is historically deprecated because they serve no useful function, since a much simpler word could take their place. Logically, irregardless only means regardful. But just to diddle you, it actually means exactly the same as “regardless”, and only intensifies its impact in a droll sort of way. In fact, it is a portmanteau word masquerading as a double negative. Lexicographers surmise that it is a blend of “irrespective” and “regardless”.

A few years ago, the Guardian put it right at the top of a list of infuriating double negatives like “undoubtedless” and “unforbidding”. It noted their rising popularity, which it read as a sign that the English-speaking world was descending into linguistic barbarism. However, even Dr Johnson, the father of English lexicography, had done battle with them. He was apparently set off by the word “irresistless”, in a villainous translation of the Song of Solomon.

But language researchers argue that the validity of a word should not be judged by its logical consistency. If a critical mass of people successfully use it to communicate, it’s just fine. And so, horrifically, the word “miniscule”, a common misspelling of “minuscule”, has been judged to be a variant by the Oxford English Dictionary. “Kudos”, which is singular in Greek but has a confusing plural ending in English, persistently litters the letters columns on the facing page, and no one cares. But like “irregardless”, badly-formed words energise colloquial communication. Could a straight sentence possibly convey the power of common Hindi speech, as in the popular phrase, “My bad luck is itself bad”?

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