‘It’s not a real word.’ Really?

Monaco isn’t a real country. It’s less than a square mile of land with no military to speak of and a population that would make it the 200th biggest town in France. OK, it’s technically a member of the UN, but it’s basically just a casino with a beach. It isn’t a real country.

Narnia isn’t a real country. It’s fictional and doesn’t actually exist.

If you’re one of those people who like to say that ‘irregardless’ isn’t a real word, which way do you mean it?

If you mean it in the first sense – that ‘irregardless’ is a shoddy excuse for a word, an illogical, clumsy and needless variation that dictionaries label as nonstandard and that it’s hardly possible to use without attracting a storm of criticism – then sure, it isn’t a real word.

But if you mean it in the second sense, that ‘irregardless’ – as Suzan St Maur puts it – “doesn’t exist”, then you’re being silly. Of course it exists. People use it, and people understand it – even if you or they don’t like it.

English is not perfect. That’s just a fact. Whatever your linguistic tastes, there will be parts of the language that you don’t like. And that may be annoying, but it doesn’t mean that those parts don’t exist. You’re free to avoid them, and to warn other people not to use them, but don’t pretend they aren’t there.

The trick is to remember that acknowledging existence and endorsing worth are not the same thing.

So if you mean ‘real’ as a value-judgement, then go ahead and denounce the unrealness of ‘irregardless’. But if people might take you to be making a patently absurd claim of non-existence, then maybe you could rephrase your complaint.

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  • Archie Wah Wah  On February 12, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks, I’ll use ‘shoddy excuse for a word’ from now on. It sounds better.

  • Theophylact  On February 13, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    Vatican City’s even smaller than Monaco, though, and it gets a US Ambassador.

  • amlees  On February 22, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Also, irregardless is in the Oxford English dictionary. Its usage dates back to at least 1912.

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