Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we're sending purists our kind irregards, regardless…
Q: Hey AWC – I keep seeing people use “irregardless” everywhere, but I’m sure it should just be “regardless”, right?
A: Yes, that’s right. Have a good day.
Q: Oh. Um, okay.
A: Were you hoping for a longer explanation?
Q: Ah yeah, we may not get sign off on this column if it’s too short.
A: Okay, easy. Ask me about why it’s in the dictionary.
Q: Oh, good idea. Ahem. SO then why is “irregardless” in the dictionary if I’m not supposed to use it? It’s very confusing.
A: Great question; one of your best. Yeah, most dictionaries these days are what they call “descriptive” – they describe the current trends in English. The Macquarie Dictionary lists it but it also includes a kind of big asterisk with it.
Q: Ah, I think you have that wrong. Obelix was the big one. And I think Snowy was the dog.
A: No, we mean that the dictionary makes a big deal of saying that “irregardless” is non-standard English.
Q: How very dogmatic of them. Oh wait – Dogmatix was the dog!
A: They do feel it necessary to acknowledge that “irregardless” exists. It would be silly to ignore the elephant in the room.
Q: My Uncle Dion did that very thing. It’ll be two years next month since the zoo accident. We miss him terribly.
A: Um, okay. So the reason why people like using “irregardless” so much is probably because it feels familiar – a blend of “regardless” and “irrespective”. They see other words with the negative “ir” prefix and it just rolls off the tongue.
Q: That reminds me of my Aunt Carol who’s a dentist and–
A: No, let’s keep going shall we. There are plenty of similar words, such as “irregular” or “irreversible”, “irrational”, “irrefutable”…
A: No, not that. The “ir” changes the rest of the word negatively. So “respective”, “regular”, “reversible”, “rational” and “refutable” all have their meanings flipped.
Q: But why can’t “irregardless” work that way?
A: Because it already has a negative suffix doing the same thing! The “-less” on the end does the same job – so adding “ir” on the front cancels it out.
Q: Wow, that word shows such little regard for the English language. It’s quite regardless really.
A: Okay, no. You’re looking for “disregard” – another prefix that does the opposite act. You’ll find it on words like “disappear” and “disassemble”.
Q: Or “disappoint”?
A: Hmmm – no, that’s an unusual case.
Q: So, to recap – “irregardless” is listed in the dictionary, but you shouldn’t use it because it is the laughing stock of purists everywhere.
A: Yeah, that’s accurate. And in 100% of cases, it can be replaced seamlessly with the word “regardless” or “irrespective” depending on the context it was clumsily jammed into.
Q: Great work. I think we did well fleshing that out. Irresourceful we are NOT!
A: Oh dear…
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!