Morris Mtisi Education Columnist
Of course it is a real word, who said it was not? But what does it mean?
The internet has an interesting article gone viral on the above question? I have already answered it in my opening questions. From the outset allow me to advise: ‘‘If you don’t want to be misguided and confused, consult a genuine English-English dictionary or an expert in whatever is not clear to you.’’
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition-2018 copyright owners, Merriam Webster, I think they are, put up a very interesting argument in defence of an artificial word — ‘‘irregardless’’. Most of the argument is not only cheap and tired but almost childish for writers of a dictionary to put up.
In the dignity of professional journalism we are disallowed to use words like silly, stupid, asinine, mad or inane to describe people or anything. One, even like this education journalist, writing for a respectable newspaper like ours, needs to be diplomatic as a critic. I promise to be just that in this enchanting academic discourse.
Yet with the level of the poverty of argument Merriam Webster dictionary displays on internet, one is tempted to be a bit temperamental and therefore a bit lacking on manners when our children fail English the way they do in Zimbabwean schools for example.
I am not surprised one bit that the defence of the ‘‘stupid’’ word ‘‘irregardless’’ in the argument says smart English ‘‘learners’’ write them (the authors of the dictionary) angry letters for defining it in their dictionary.
Any normal English authority or serious learner would. I hope I am not angry myself. The defence (Merriam Webster) calls these complainants ‘‘disirregardlessers’’. Immediately you begin to sense the level of appetite for creating and defining tasteless and inane words in the owners and writers of the American Heritage dictionary.
The cheapest argument for defending the inclusion of ‘‘irregardless’’ in their dictionary is, they say, “It meets our criteria for inclusion,” then “This word has been used by a large number of people (millions) for a long time (over two hundred years) with a specific and identifiable meaning (‘‘regardless’’).
This interesting defence argues that the fact that there is already a word in English with the same meaning (regardless) is not terribly important. Of course it is terribly important! The harebrained exponents of the interesting argument continue, “It is not a dictionary’s job to assess whether a word is necessary before defining it.”
Can worthwhile lexicographers, intelligent verbal communicators or definers of words speak or write, ‘‘He was bleeding blood’’ and argue it is not their job to assess whether ‘‘blood’’ is not necessary in this statement? Or ‘‘I saw it with my own eyes’’ and argue it is not their job to assess whether ‘‘with my own eyes’’ is not necessary.
The final example, ‘‘I heard it with my own ears’’ and argue that it is not their job to assess whether ‘‘with my own ears’’ is not necessary? Is this not typical Pleonasm, the language crime of use of more words than are necessary? Or must we tell this American company known for its interesting dictionaries that this is what we call mother-tongue interference responsible for tawdry transliteration.
We call this common error Pleonasm in English. It enlightens English language learners, especially second or third language learners like us, that avoiding unnecessary words in intelligent verbal communication is critically important. It avoids sounding asinine . . . stupid, when writing or speaking. Well, avoiding sounding not educated or clever!
It is the following statement in defence of the word ‘‘irregardless’’ that makes the most interesting reading, “The fact that the word is generally viewed as non-standard, or as illustrative of poor education, is likewise not important.” Again, of course it is important! Is this not an admission of guilt that the word belongs to the garbage can . . . the trash can? If it illustrates poor education, how can it not be important and worthy of avoiding?
I am a qualified teacher of English language in Zimbabwe. I do not only speak it or write it fairly well . . . at least I try to. I also studied it formally and informally at some great depth for many years, and taught it for the entire half of my life. The area of common errors made by second, perhaps even third and fourth English language learners in Zimbabwe has been and continues to be a particularly fascinating area of public-interest teaching which I do through radio and newspaper.
My passion for common errors started when I was twelve, under the careful tutelage of an expert second-language English Language teacher, one Mrs Joy Lowe. She taught me to accept being corrected without feeling small or useless.
If you don’t know something, learn it from those who know; simple! And learn it with a smile on your face. That was my greatest lesson in the process of learning this difficult but fascinating language.
The story of my qualification is long and unnecessary here. The point I wanted to make, if you will allow me to make it now, is that we (Africans) have now studied and learnt the English language to make tenable argument against English nonsense when we read it or hear it from whomever, from wherever. ‘‘Irregardeless’’ is one such senseless, call it tawdry word, no matter what your dictionary or dictionaries say.
Do we really have to care if it is an American Heritage dictionary, fifth of fiftieth edition? Those who write you angry letters are wrong for being angry, but are right for contesting daft thinking and pointless defence of absolute verbal trash . . . I need to continue to remind myself to mind my manners.
You described those who are not overly fond of the word ‘‘irregardless’’ as a small and polite group. Yes, very small group perhaps, but let me hasten to say it may be a small group of people who realise nonsense when they hear or read it. I am one in that small group, bold, confident, and unashamed. ‘‘Polite’’ yes also, another good word from you, and I am sure you have so far realised how polite I am.
I did not want to mention that I am a black writer and scholar for that would easily smell of racism. And the word racism is not one that we can be proud of in Zimbabwe. We suffered for decades under white racist governments. But the point I want to make demands that mention. Merriam Webster Company argues that millions of people use the word and have used it over two hundred years . . . hence the legitimacy of their inclusion of the word. If hogwash is too strong, and I must continue to be within check of my manners, is this argument not embarrassing?
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English language and Literature are the Physics and Pure Maths of the Arts. Enjoy.