Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nails on a Blackboard

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

What is my grammar pet peeve? Irregardless. Honestly. That one word is enough to get my blood pressure redlining and my hands clenched into fists. It’s not just that it isn’t a word. Plenty of people make up their own lexicon. I was never offended by Dr. Seuss’ enormous enormance performance at the Circus McGurkus. It has rhythm and imagination and true substance. Seuss was using his personal relationship with language to make a point accessible to all. I cannot imagine how long Seuss toiled to find exactly the right meter to teach tolerance and anti-materialism and environmentalism. When the dictionary proved either too sophisticated for his audience or too unimaginative for his dimension, he pushed himself beyond the barriers and gave us all gifts of new words, new phrases, resonant meaning.

No one use irregardless to make a statement. It’s just plain laziness. It exhibits a casualness in word selection. It shows disinterest in precision or articulation. I’ll admit I believe in the structure of language. I grew up with the “rules” and diagramming sentences and, despite the modern reluctance to teach those same rules to the next generation, I find comfort in knowing that the words in my sentences have purpose. I feel better when I’ve taken the time to deliberately choose my language so that my meaning doesn’t become lost in the bump and grind of discordant non-words.

Worse than the casual addition of two confusing and unnecessary letters to the intended word, regardless, and its meaning is the inclusion of such non-standard English in reference books. Yes, I refer to the Oxford English Dictionary. This tome is the go-to manual for English. How can non-standard make the grade when the bar is supposed to be set so high? I cringe even thinking of it. I have heard the arguments in favor of inclusion of irregardless and its ilk on the pages of the most prestigious arbiter of English. I do not believe most of them are valid on this point. Proponents of inclusion of new words in the reference manuals, those words that through cultural changes, technological advances or ethnic expansion have made their way into the mouths of English babes, make a good point. Language is a living thing. There should be new words and phrases that get invited to the OED party. Twenty years ago, facsimile or fax, meant nothing. Now, everyone has one at home. There wasn’t a word for it before. We needed something to call this brave new thing. Like Seuss, we needed to invent a word with substance to fill a place where no words existed to convey the meaning, the texture, the technology of the idea. That’s a valid reason to slide facsimile between facile and factotum. I applaud. I approve. Even better, I don’t break out in literary hives.

Irregardless isn’t one of those words. There is already a good word for the meaning. “Ir” adds nothing except a non-standard designation to dictionary entry. Ouch. I feel personal pain. I flinch when I hear it. It is not an attack on non-native English speakers or an indictment of minorities. Frankly, I’ve only ever heard it used by intelligent, educated native speakers. Why oh why?

As writers, as readers, as speakers, we should aspire in our language. We need to engage our audience whether our product is a new novel, a motivational speech or a political rant. If we are engaging in English, we should use all of the beauty and elegance of the language of Shakespeare. And the OED return to its status as beacon for that journey.

Regardless of its past inclusions.

Thanks for reading.



Mike Dennis said...

The use of "irregardless" should be made irlegal.

Gabi said...

Disorientating and therefore irlegal. I'd persecute.

This is bad.

Mike Dennis said...

Persecution would supposably be a preventative measure.

Jen Forbus said...

My biggie is "I could care less." Really? It's that important to you, huh?

Gabi said...

Well obviously they do care since that degree of investment can still fall further. I'd better keep talking then...