Friday, October 10, 2008

Irregardless of WHAT?

This post will be a bit different then the others but, I think the whole 'blog' concept is great for this kind of thing so...

I watched an interview on youtube the other night and heard the word irregardless used and cringed. The truth is that one hundred percent of the time the word regardless will work equally as well. My initial thought was that this was a case of what linguists call hypercorrection. Which is defined as “The erroneous use of a word or form resulting from a misdirected effort to use what is believed to be a grammatically correct form” Based on this definition, it actually turns out to be hypercorrection.

But, I was certain hypercorrection was a different term which generally meant: people trying to sound more intelligent than they actually are. This is a crime I surely am not innocent of either.

It is a very difficult thing to avoid completely. It brings to mind a casual definition I’d heard of on old money and new money: Old money will sit down and eat McDonald's with you and not care, new money will be snooty seeming. (eg. Not wishing to being seen in a McDonald's.) New intellectuals desire to be smarter than they are and often make mistakes in pursuit of it. Old intellectuals will use the words that work, (hence my grandfather and parents only saying about six to twelve words to my twelve thousand) to convey the point.

Irregardless, certain words which are used in our society are unnecessary and are classified as either needless variants or nonwords. Referring to one of my favorite resources on grammar Garner’s Modern English Usage (A book I highly recommend,, which I think through its humor cuts much of the elitism found in grammar and language study)

Garner treats irregardless in his book and happens to lead to some very well known authors, and down an interesting path of linguistic knowledge. Garner defines irregardless as

A semiliterate portmanteau word formed from irrespective and regardless…and…should have been stamped out long ago. But it’s common enough in speech that it has found its way into all manner of print sources” (interestingly enough, The Arizona Republic writers come up more than once as examples Garner considers users of incorrect grammar…) He continues to say that “Although this widely scorned nonword seems unlikely to spread much more that it already has, careful users of language must continually swat at when they encounter it.

Following the new definitions, of which I had never heard of (eg portmanteau word and nonword) lead us to a very famous name.

“Portmanteau Words: Lewis Carroll improvised this term to denote words formed by combining the sounds and meaning of two different words. (Linguists use the term blend) Carroll gave us chortle (chuckle + snort) and galumph (gallop + triumph). Thus insinuendo combines insinuation with innuendo; quasar is from quasi and stellar; aerobicise derives from aerobic exercise. Other recent innovations are avigation, from aviation and navigation; pictionary fro picture-filled dictionary; and videbut for video and debut.
Most portmanteau words are words that do not gain currency; others, like brunch (breakfast + lunch) become standard. Among these protmanteau coinages are these

breathalyzer (breath + analyzer)
brotel (brothel + hotel)
motel (motor + hotel)
simulcast (simultaneous + broadcast)

Plus many, many others which you can find in Dick Thurner’s book Portmanteau Dictionary; Blend Words in the English Language, Including Trademarks and Brand Names. Had I the money, I would go out and get it now.

As humorous as some of them sound, like brotel, there are many that have become legitimate words. That is one of the remarkable things about language, those readers who are maybe in their fifties, (I’m only 26) would surely see this combining of two words right off the bat. I however don’t.

The last place we will visit in Garner’s Usage is nonword whose entry proves to be entertaining. Had I thought five years ago that language was actually the free-for-all as I understand it to be now I might have done better in my grammar class…probably not though…That aside, we get the following upon looking up nonword,

“H.W. Fowler’s formidable American precursor, Richard Grant White, wrote incisively about words that aren’t legitimate words:

As there are books that are not books, so there are words that are not words. Most of them are usurpers, interlopers, or vulgar pretenders; some are deformed creatures, with only half a life in the; but some of them are legitimate enough in their pretensions, although oppressive, intolerable, useless. Words that are not words sometimes die spontaneously; but many linger, living a precarious life on the outskirts of society uncertain of their position, and cause great discomfort to all right thinking, straightforward people.
-Words and Their Uses 184 (rev. ed. 1899)

Interestingly enough, Garner goes on to state that among the words
“White labeled nonwords are three that might still be considered so; enthused, experimentalize, preventative. But with most of the others he mentions, he proved anything but prophetic—they’re now standard; accountable, answerable, controversialist, conversationalist, donate, exponential, jeopardize, practitioner, presidential, reliable, tangential.
"The lesson appears to be that in any age, stigmatizing words is a tough business- no matter how good the arguments against them might be…The term nonword might appear to be a nonword itself because until recently it did not appear in most dictionaries.”

That is it for me and this tangent. However, I have one other observation that can follow the polemical tone White uses in his definition of nonwords, and that is:

Based on what I learned above, and having experienced academia for longer than I should have, I’ve come to use accept White’s nonwords as buzzwords within many different, acknowledged disciplines. They range even into political jargon. This is all very reminiscent of Orwell’s doublespeak. But don’t quote me on that.

My conclusion is that one should get a book of nonwords, use them profusely, across many disciplines. Crouch them in complex ideas as buzzwords and or even develop academic sounding ideas that give the nonwords legitimate meaning. That way you’ll be on the cutting edge of language, which now appears even more ragged than before.

I’ll try my hand at one of them here in the next week and post again on the subject. If you feel so inclined I’ll leave a list of other nonwords for you to give legitimacy to as well.

Speaking of Lewis Carroll, we have some charming notepads in the store featuring Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland we just got into the store which you might want to jot some ideas down in. They have the cool elastic strap over the end. Not to mention a wonderful version of Alice in Wonderland that would make a great Christmas gift.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting article, Will. You should
    hijack this page more ofter!
    -Lorri

    ReplyDelete