Dictionary deity

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As a copy editor for this publication, the bona fide final bastion against hasty mistakes, I take my job seriously as a prophet of George and Charles Merriam, wielding my holy book (11th edition) whilst raining righteous judgment unto the sinners who would carelessly defy convention and tradition alike — amen. And yet, every year the yardstick morphs ever so slightly, as additions are made to the vernacular on the daily. Recent years have been no exception, and the process even seems to be accelerating.

According to Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper, three criteria are necessary for a word to officially enter the dictionary: widespread use, sustained use and meaningful use. With the advent of the internet and its burgeoning culture, it is safe to say that we are entering an era of unprecedented growth, with techspeak and internet slang as emerging treasure troves of glittering new words. Among the likes of the relatively neutral terms such as “binge-watch,” “humblebrag,” “pho” and “meme” to gain official status by Merriam-Webster standards are politically charged words such as “truther,” “safe space,” “net neutrality” and “microaggression.” The central conceit and frustration of someone preoccupied with the legitimacy of language is the recognition that even Merriam-Webster and the AP stylebook are helpless in staying current with changing cultural, societal and technological tides. We are the authority standing on shifting sands.

Now, dear reader, I would like to put forward a point of debate that would most certainly get me crucified by language prescriptivists. “Irregardless” belongs in the English language, and deservedly so. While I am undoubtedly woefully underinformed to take a stance on this age-old battleground, to the best of my knowledge, yours truly falls under the flag of linguistic nonessentialists. The main point of contention is, simply, whether or not a thing must necessarily exist as a concept before it can receive a delineation, or if the action of putting word to ideas solidifies the essence-of-things from a previously amorphous and imprecise blob of impressions. A sort of chicken or the egg situation, if you will.

As this publication happens to employ Merriam-Webster as its gold standard, a simple search yields that “irregardless” functions as a synonym for “regardless” and is considered a nonstandard word, as part of dialects or slang. Lexicographers hypothesize that “irregardless” emerged as a portmanteau of “regardless” and “irrespective,” and has been in use since as early as 1795. For traditionalists, this is more than enough reason to justly and roundly condemn “irregardless” as a part of the effort to bastardize and corrupt what is a logical and operational language, while for anti-foundationalists like myself who see language as a living and inherently imprecise endeavor to begin with anyway, where’s the harm in bending the rules, if just a tiny bit?

I live my life as a hypocrite.

Contact Andrew Yen at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @andrewyen329.