When irregardless was first added to Merriam-Webster’s unabridged dictionary, I was appalled just like many other people. Like the person who posted this comment to Merriam-Webster on Twitter:
As soon as I stop rolling my eyes about what a fucking drama queen the person who said that must be, let’s unpack this objection. I’ll get to both literally and dead when my eyes recover from muscle strain.
My artistic/linguistic soul mate Diarpi commissioned the word irregardless for a CNFT in the disrupt. collection, claiming that it was the most disruptive word in the English language.
He’s right. It’s an incredibly important word in the English language because it confronts us with how elitist and undemocratic our language is.
Due to common, consistent use of the word irregardless for hundreds of years, the Merriam-Webster staff added it to their dictionary. It was an unpopular decision.
A lot of people reacted as if the editors had descended upon their houses in torch-carrying mobs to drown their children in tubs full of urine.
I get it. Some of us have a special relationship with words and language. Some of us even think of language as the basis of thought, not the other way around. We love words. And when primates like us see casual or ignorant mistreatment of something we love, we become outraged.
I got angry when they put irregardless in the dictionary.
This word is wrong, I thought. Only “right” words should go in the dictionary. Technically, it is wrong. People use it to mean the opposite of what it actually means due to the addition of the neutralizing prefix. And they do it out of ignorance of what prefixes and suffixes are supposed to do.
How dare anyone not know what prefixes and suffixes are supposed to do? They might as well be coming to my house to kill my children right now.
Look … we all want other people to love the things we love so we don’t feel stupid for loving them so much. We’re savagely insecure beings.
But some people worship antique oven mitts and are intimately familiar with their history and design evolution. Maybe those nine people are judging the rest of us because we’re just not that into oven mitts. Who cares about what nine people think?
I don’t know. There are only nine judges in the supreme court, so we as a nation must place the highest trust in the consensus of just nine people. Let’s just for a minute imagine that the Merriam-Webster editorial staff is chosen in a similar manner.
There’s a whole lot of dumb bullshit that goes into sorting out whether we trust those people or not, and none of it is in our hands, anyway. If we don’t get to choose who is choosing what’s okay for us, why would we trust that person or persons?
We don’t get to vote for the nine people who truly rule our lives. We don’t get to vote for the editorial staff of Merriam-Webster, either. They get where they are because they’re privileged.
They’ll say they’re being fair and impartial, but they’re lying. They’re biased, ignorant primates just like the rest of us. They do exactly what everyone else does and act in a way that preserves their privilege and encourages future generations to preserve it as well.
Where does that leave the rest of us seven billion other people on Earth who are expected to conform to the conventions of white, straight, cisgender male-privileged English?
Come on, y’all. We know what someone means when they say irregardless. Despite the erroneous prefix, it causes no confusion. So is it really a problem? Or is it just a problem for linguistic gatekeepers with socioeconomic privilege?
You know what else is technically incorrect that I’ve never in my life heard a single person bitch about? Almost every native English speaker on the planet says oh instead of zero even though oh is not a number.
It’s an abstract drawing that represents a vowel sound and a word representing an otherwise nonsensical verbal filler (a dorky sound effect) that we use when we’ve just heard something we don’t know what to say about yet.
It’s a conversational stalling tactic at best and, at worst, a misappropriation of a vowel sound based on a shape. And somehow it became a perfectly acceptable word anyway and made it into the dictionary, even as a replacement for zero.
Raise your hand if you want to be considered too ignorant to influence language because you say a letter when you mean a number.
Now raise your hand if you think it’s fair to say that someone else doesn’t have the right to fully participate in language because they add an unnecessary prefix to a word, changing nothing in its culturally understood meaning.
Understandably, we all want to participate in whatever language experiences our culture offers us.
Here’s the big question.
Who should be allowed to participate in the cultural significance and preservation of their own native language? An elite few? “Educated” people? (Yet another loaded word we need to dissect.) If we say only educated people should be allowed to influence language, then we open the floodgates.
And rightly so.
What does “educated” mean?
How much “education” do people really need to become intelligent and competent enough to earn permission to celebrate their birthright?
Let’s not forget that education is largely shaped by conditions in the schools we went to and how much funding they had.
Also by the role of privilege in determining the educational experience of everyone in our culture and what it means for communities who are not beneficiaries of that privilege.
A language must keep changing to maintain cultural relevance and stay alive. That’s why we add new words. That’s why we discard the use of old words that no longer serve us well. And why subcultures hijack everyday words that have gone unconsidered for a long time and give them different contextual and cultural definitions.
And this disrupts, but it doesn’t change the original meaning of the word. It just adds an extra layer of meaning pinned to a particular subculture’s relationship to the word and consensus about what that word means to them.
Disruption is the essence of life.
We’re only alive because an amino acid got a wild hair up its ass.
English is only alive because people make up stupid words like irregardless and disrupt the dictionary. So the inclusion of irregardless into the dictionary means English is very much alive, not dead.
Pretty much the opposite of literally dead (see 4b), which means many things according to Merriam-Webster.
If we truly want English to stay alive, we must let it be disrupted as often as possible. And be grateful that everyone who speaks it plays a part in breathing a little new life into it from time to time.
No matter who they are, what color they are, how much money they have, or where they went to school. Even if they’re too impatient to pay close attention to prefixes and suffixes. Hell — even if they don’t care much about words at all.
Language is for everyone.