Word Bites — Why does the word “irregardless” exist?

It sounds ungrammatical, yet seemingly so intuitive to say. Even so, this word has attracted much controversy about its use in the twentieth century, in definition, usage, and the like. While it has been recognised as a dictionary entry decades ago, it still shows up as a spelling error in some text editors, including the one I am using to write this. So, what is this word all about?

A normal Google search on the definition of the word “irregardless” would return the result “regardless”, much akin to the almost identical definitions of the words “flammable” and “inflammable”. While we might have heard about the word “irregardless” in a lot of colloquial contexts from time to time, it turns out that its origin actually traces back at least a couple of centuries.

The word “irregardless” seems to be decreasing since the turn of the millennium. But…
Its usage is dwarfed by that of “regardless” over time…

The origins of the word “irregardless” is quite unclear, even though it has been recorded in print as early as 1795, in the June 23 print of the City Gazette and Daily Advertiser, a newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina. Superficially, it seems to be a portmanteau, or a blend of the words “irrespective” and “regardless”, but yet does not actually carry the meaning of the negation prefix “ir-“.

This word did not come without controversy. A full century after appearing in the South Carolina newspaper, the Wentworth American Dialect Dictionary in 1912 recognised the word as “originating in western Indiana”. Topics across the Anglophone landscape during that era included “Is ‘irregardless’ even a word in the English language?” and “How do you even use ‘irregardless’?”, often written in a cynical sense to cast linguistic doubt on the word’s legitimacy in dictionaries. Some might even propose that “irregardless” is a North American colloquial expression.

This impression stuck around for years, with publications in the 1930s calling it an “erroneous” form of the original word “regardless”, even as usage grew during that period. Its entry into English dictionaries is still a slow controversial process, as academics and scholars debate over its usage, and how grammatical (or not) it is in various contexts. Some entries might mark it is “non-standard”, even recommending to use the words “regardless” or “irrespective” instead.

And where does this lead us today? A word seemingly used everywhere, but more often in informal contexts, and its legitimacy still juxtaposed between an actual word and a form of erroneous speech to be corrected. Even though “irregardless” has gained foothold in English dictionaries all over the world, spell checkers refuse to recognise this as a legitimate word, regardless of the spelling standard used (British English, American English, or Canadian English etc.). Here, on the WordPress block editor, even by American English spelling standards, this word still gets a little red underscore to it.

Some questions still linger on after covering this curious oddity of a word. Is this an evident of a language still evolving, since its supposed origins in America, or is there more to the history of “irregardless” that not many have uncovered? Should one still continue using the portmanteau in various situations that allow it? This controversy in some ways, continues to this day as we debate about the grammaticality of using the word “irregardless” in place of “regardless”, even if their definitions are more or less the same.

To spark further debate, we are interested to know, native speaker or not, what are your thoughts about the word “irregardless”? Is it acceptable or erroneous? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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