After decades of sniggering every time someone used “irregardless” when they meant regardless, we’ve been forced to admit that it’s a real word. Sort of.
Anyone familiar with ex-US president George W Bush’s mangling of the English language (“They misunderestimated me.”) would assume that irregardless fell into the same category: a made-up word used in error by someone not very smart.
A recent article in Atlantic magazine has forced a rethink. It turns out the word was confined to a local dialect in Indiana in the United States at around the turn of the 20th century.
The dialect spread as Indianans (commonly called Hoosiers) established new settlements taking their dialect with them.
Since then, its growth has been largely confined to the midwestern and southern states, but occasionally it pops up elsewhere and raises a fresh round of heated debates about its claim to be a genuine English word.
Irregardless is an union of irrespective and regardless
Some insist that it’s a union of irrespective and regardless but, if so, it’s not a happy marriage. The prefix “ir” means not and the suffix “less” means without. This creates a double negative, each of which cancels out the other.
The Atlantic magazine article explains that the correct use of the word is to bring about the end of a debate or argument:
EMPLOYEE: “I need a bigger car allowance. I have to do much more travelling than the other sales people.”
BOSS: “Irregardless. You can’t have one.”
That may be so. But unless you live in a community composed almost entirely of Hoosiers, you’d be well advised to leave it alone, or you’ll be taken for someone who wasn’t paying attention at school.