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Why is irrespective considered a proper word but irregardless is not?

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4 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The "ir" in "irrespective" means "not", i.e. "not respective". So "irregardless" would mean "not regardless", which would mean the opposite of what you probably hope it would mean.

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I agree. But the situation with irregardless is that people mean "regardless" and so we have two words, that appear to be antonyms, which are actually synonyms. Reminds me of "inflammable" and "flammable". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 18 '10 at 15:57
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@Mr. Shiny and New: Yet people don't have any trouble with "inflammatory". –  mmyers Sep 15 '10 at 20:13
    
@mmyers: Never thought of that. Odd :) –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 16 '10 at 14:53
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I have to add (because it is a reminder of one of my most ignominious defeats) that 'irregardless' has fought its way into most dictionaries. Here's M-W: - The most frequently repeated remark about it (irregardless - bev) is that “there is no such word.” There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. . Sad but true. –  bev Dec 1 '10 at 23:37
    
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Some people use "irregardless" for “regardless” but many people think it is incorrect. It is probably a combination of "irrespective" and "regardless" which is sometimes used humorously.

Oxford Dictionary says:

Irregardless means the same as regardless, but the negative prefix ir- merely duplicates the suffix -less, and is unnecessary. The word dates back to the 19th century, but is regarded as incorrect in standard English.

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An informal example: The photographer always says, irregardless of how his subjects are feeling, ‘Smile!’ –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Aug 18 '10 at 12:43
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It is like "misunderestimate", where "misunderstand" and "underestimate" were conflated. Only "irregardless" has become so widespread that, at some point in the future, people might not even think twice about using it. –  Kosmonaut Aug 18 '10 at 13:18
    
The OED says “In non-standard or humorous use: regardless.” –  tchrist May 23 '12 at 12:23
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In addition to the prefix/suffix duplication, irregardless is used rarely. A COCA query shows 11189 hits for regardless and only 36 for irregardless. That's a reason for it to not be considered a proper word.

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I don't see how the number of appearances in COCA suggests anything about a word's properness. 'tremulant' only has two hits, while 'cromulent' has eight. The Corpus is a measure of rarity, not correctness. –  ladenedge Aug 18 '10 at 19:46
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@ladenedge The concept of properness is ill-defined. People who write dictionaries are faced with what words to include and what meaning to ascribe to those words. This is particularly relevant when adding new words. Part of this decision has to do with how commonly and consistently they are used. In order to evaluate these factors they use a corpus. This is also how they identify idioms, collocations, and alternate meanings. Researchers even use special corpora based on text from learners to find typical mistakes such as using words like 'irregardless'. –  Chris Aug 19 '10 at 12:35
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In a recent video, my favorite Merriam-Webster editor warns against calling "irregardless" a non-word.

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