the Change I Wish to See

...and whatever else it takes to find my pants


the I-word.


Yeah, I said it. Now calm down.


Breathe it in. It's a word. And unless your last name is Webster, nothing you do is going to change that. For too long, I have sat idly by, while overly-aggressive, self-accredited experts of American-English lexicon spew vitriol at any good-hearted person who dared utter the word.

Stop it. Just stop it. I know why you do it; I get it. You were tracked for AP English since conception. When other kids were playing with blocks you were reading the nutritional label on your Gerber's. While we were all still mourning the loss of the Thundercats, you were suing ABC for turning over your life story to some guy named Neil Patrick Harris. And when we were all reading the stories of the Boxcar Children, you were reading Shakespeare. You built a flawless academic career only to now realize that the ability to make a living is almost so unrelated to your ability to distinguish between present and past participles that the two are inversely proportional. And now, so eager to find any utility in the vat of knowledge you amassed, you're bitter.

I'm sorry. I'm really not. I'm just saying that because people seem to say it to break up the tension when chastising. I suppose I might be sorry if the evil that is the disdain against “irregardless” was unique to your condition. But it's not. There is unquestionably an American vendetta. So it made me wonder: how is it that even the most illiterate turn into wordsmiths when offering the “regardless” correction, often in Dennis Miller-like rants? Why is “irregardless” the line in the sand, making its users heathens donning scarlet letters?

It's been, at the very least, a word since 1912, when cited in the American Dialectical Dictionary. So for all you who insist it simply “isn't a word,” you're as wrong as the now infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner. The truth is, the I-word is merely non-standard, rather than the more traditional, and popularly accepted, standard English. Neither category is any more word-like than the other.

What amazes me is the vehemence with which everyday citizens swing at the neck of those who apparently threaten to unravel the social linguistic fabric. Notice anything odd in that sentence? If you've ever barked at the sound of “irregardless,” you should. “Unravel” is a great example of the very argument used to humiliate I-word users: it's a double negative. “Ravel” means exactly the same thing that “unravel” is used to mean. And “flammable” means exactly the same thing “inflammable” is used to mean. Both of them have redundant affixes. So if your cry is, “'regardless' already means without regard, so 'irregardless' can't possibly be used to mean the same,” try again. Or better yet, just try being consistent.

Now I'm not saying the answer here is to make the I-word as staple as, say, a conjunction-junction-what's-your-function hooking up words and phrases and clauses, the foundation upon which our children learn. But we do need to acknowledge its presence; if for no other reason than that we already acknowledge so much less. Kant used “universalizable” so often you'd think it was an article. I won't even get into the “words” lawyers and judges flat-out make up and present as obscure English to impress us and capture ideas not worth all the effort anyway.

We live in a time where “bling” made it into the dictionary and no one burned their Merriam in protest. Athletes-turned-commentators constantly drop “more better” on my sacred television without punishment. There is an entire region of the country that pronounces “every” as “erree.” Erree. And we haven't forced it to secede yet. I once heard a girl say “horatious.” Or maybe it was “whorain'tcha?” Maybe she was asking her friend a question. But I didn't slap her.

I'm not asking you to start dropping the I-word during interviews. You don't even have to twist-up a new gang sign, rivaling either of the vaunted West or East sides, with a strong, solitary, ring-fingered salute [and if you take it upon yourself to do this you 1) almost certainly deserve more than you get, and 2) if seen by me, will be hurt, by me]. All I want for Christmas is a little love for a deeply resented word. Because irregardless of what you may choose to believe, “irregardless” is here to stay.

[It should go without saying that any and all grammatical errors it may seem I have committed in this entry, even in this very disclaimer, are, of course, ironic political discourse and cannot serve to weaken my critique. Thanks for playing.]


Nina said...


loves it.

i am one of those that type in all lower-case, have massive run-on sentences and harp on the usage of the "i" word...

go figure.

f.B said...

i think some writing rules are made to be broken. especially when the most important point of writing is that the people reading get it