Is ‘irregardless’ a word?

Although irregardless has been in use since the early 20C, it remains non-standard and widely censured. It is undeniably a word, but using it in formal contexts (and many informal ones) is likely to invoke criticism and even scorn. The word seems to have emerged as a combination — some would say mutant hybrid — of regardless and irrespective.

Lewis Carroll used the term portmanteau to describe a neologism with “two meanings packed up into one word”; his nonsense verse Jabberwocky (pictured) is full of them. Portmanteau is itself a portmanteau word formed from the French words porter (“to carry”) and manteau (“cloak”). Linguists sometimes call them blends. Some disappear without trace, some retain limited use, and some become standard. Success doesn’t depend on euphony, as the popularity of stagflation demonstrates.

Here’s a list of portmanteau words, including some standard terms and some neologisms:

jabberwockybanoffee (banana + toffee)

biopic (biographical + picture)
Bollywood (Bombay + Hollywood)
breathalyser (breath + analyser)
brunch (breakfast + lunch)
camcorder (camera + recorder)
chortle (chuckle + snort)
cremains (cremated + remains)
cyborg (cybernetic + organism)
docudrama (documentary + drama)
electrocute (electricity + execute)
Franglais (Français + Anglais)
malware (malicious + software)
mockumentary (mock + documentary)
multiplex (multiple + complex)
Oxbridge (Oxford + Cambridge)
paratroops (parachute + troops)
podcast (iPod + broadcast)
smog (smoke + fog)
stagflation (stagnation + inflation)
telethon (telephone + marathon)
transistor (transfer + resistor)
travelogue (travel + monologue)
Wikipedia (wiki + encyclopedia)

[image source]

12 Responses to Is ‘irregardless’ a word?

  1. […] One of the least elegant portmanteau words I’ve ever […]

  2. […] user, but these criticisms warrant reasoned arguments to back them up, not dictatorial denial. I don’t care for irregardless, but I’ll defend its right to be […]

  3. mike says:

    Hm. I’m becoming less and less of a grammar stickler over time, but if that’s the origin of “irregardless,” then the word seems all the more redundant. That doesn’t mean unusable, just perplexing: aren’t regardless and irrespective synonyms?

  4. Stan says:

    Mike: Redundancy has a bad reputation, but there’s nothing inherently or automatically wrong with it. Regardless and irregardless are synonyms; a similar pair is flammable and inflammable. But where the latter seem to cause significant confusion (hence the introduction of non-flammable), I don’t think I’ve ever seen a genuine mix-up ensue from the use of irregardless. Some users find it more emphatic than its forerunner, and this difference might find increasing favour.

  5. giantELF says:

    I firmly believe irregardless should be a word. Check out my thoughts on the very same subject:

  6. Stan says:

    giantELF: There’s no “should” about it. “Irregardless” is a word.

  7. David Morris says:

    I’m making my way through your archives, so I’ll pop up in unexpected places. I have to say that one of my rules of thumb is: redundancy or not, all else being equal, when you have a valid choice, go for the non-redundant word, the one which can be understood from first principles as saying what it means and meaning what it says.
    I was thinking about this pair of words recently, and checked the major linguistics research tools, and the sheer fact of the matter is that people use ‘regardless’ more than ‘irregardless’ by a factor of several hundred to one.
    That said, ‘irregardless’ is a word – it has a form, it has a meaning, which people understand, even if they pretend that they don’t. Fortunately for me, no-one around me ever uses it.

    • Stan says:

      David: Agreed. And it may be the circles I move in, but when I encounter irregardless it’s far more often being mentioned than used.

      This post starts off as one thing and turns into another, and doesn’t treat either item satisfactorily. Sometimes when I revisit the archives I disagree with what I’ve written and frown at how I’ve written it. So if you’re browsing, lower your expectations accordingly!

      • David Morris says:

        What does ‘regardless’ mean, anyway? ‘I crossed the road regardless of the heavy traffic’ might mean I saw the heavy traffic but decided to cross anyway, and took reasonable care, OR it might mean I crossed the road carelessly.
        So ‘I crossed the road irregardless of the heavy traffic’ means I crossed carefully???? Do the people who say ‘irregardless’ means ‘not regardless’ or ‘without irregard’ really understand it to mean that? Words in isolated may be analysed to mean something or another, but are always used in context.
        In my previous post I also meant to add that many of the Google results are dictionary entries or blog discussions, rather than actual use.

      • Stan says:

        Yes: Since it can function as an adjective meaning ‘heedless’ or as an adverb meaning ‘anyway’ or ‘despite everything’, in contexts like that it’s ambiguous.

  8. Sioe Ní hUasal says:

    Lack of scholarship, indifference or conspiracy… why are there so many words clearly of Irish-language origin unacknowledged as such in English-language dictionaries?
    Such words I know to be Irish are catagorised as slang or conjectured as to origin, etc.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Loreto Todd, in her book Green English, asks why there has been ‘such a long-standing reluctance to recognise the presence of Celtic words in the English language’. It’s something I hope to write a separate post about, eventually.

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