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I thought the word irritance was a word — but it isn’t one according to Google and my dictionary.

It sounds correct; what is the word I should use?

By irritance I mean something that’s being irritating, like a person kicking the back of your plane seat is an irritance.


After researching more, I’ve found the word I was looking for was nuisance.

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Depending on context, probably irritation or irritant. –  Rupe Jul 15 at 19:40
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Unless you say how you might use it, we cannot say what word you “should” use instead. –  tchrist Jul 15 at 19:41
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Irritation? Or irritants? Or bus stop? Or sherbet lemon? Or perhaps something entirely different. Very hard to tell you what word you should use if you don't tell us what it's supposed to mean. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 15 at 19:42
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My gut feeling is that you're mixing up irritation and annoyance. –  Rupe Jul 15 at 19:45
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@Josh61 That's a big coincidence! I used almost the exact same example! –  downloader Jul 15 at 20:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Although irritancy certainly exists as a noun, something that is irritating is normally referred to as an irritant or an irritation — or less commonly and usually with a human agent only, an irritator.


(lifted out of ephemeral comments)

I haven’t found any dictionaries that yet contain irritance, although there do exist published books that happen to use it. This usually means that a word is too new or too rare to bother mentioning, since even catachrestic uses are documented by full dictionaries.

So although anyone would instantly understand what you meant by the word irritance, your computerized spellchecker might not like it and your readers might consider it a non-standard use.

It is important to remember that no dictionary purports to list all words, not even the OED. So just because a dictionary doesn’t list a word does not mean that that word is “not a word”. Absence of evidence never constitutes evidence of absence. There are many reasons why dictionaries leave words out.

You should therefore never conclude that the omission of a dictionary entry for a word somehow “means” that that word is not an “actual” word. As the link to published works shows, there actually are a few people who do — albeit on rather rare occasion — write irritance in published books. A few examples of actual printed use for irritance are:

My personal recommendation would be not to use irritance to mean an irritant, but there is no law forbidding you from doing so.

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So irritance is not a word, but irritancy is? English is strange... :) –  downloader Jul 15 at 19:45
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Ah but to balance things up we have annoyance with no annoyancy. –  Rupe Jul 15 at 19:47
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@downloader I didn’t say irritance was not a word, merely that we normally use those other words. See here and here. –  tchrist Jul 15 at 19:48
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@Anonym- I really like potatonic - A near vegetative state induced by extended periods of television viewing. –  Jim Jul 15 at 20:16
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@tchrist Now I really wish I could +1 you :) this is a very good, detailed answer! No wonder you have 51.7k rep! –  downloader Jul 15 at 20:37

I think you want irritant from the free dictionary:

causing irritation, especially physical irritation.

Even if it is ongoing, it is an irritant or irritation:

  • How small irritants become big issues—and what to do about them.
  • The under-representation of the backcountry areas in colonial legislatures was an ongoing source of irritation in the colonial South.

Perhaps your supposition that irritance is a word stems from the way irritants is pronounced.

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It sounds correct, what is the word I should use?

That depends upon what you want to say:

An irritant is something which irritates.

Irritation is the act or state of being irritated.

Irritance probably sounds correct to you because, having been derived from irritant, it follows a regular pattern: defiant, defiance; reliant, reliance; omniscient, omniscience; and so on. Middle English even had pleasant, pleasance, though we've since replaced the second word with pleasure. In theory, there is nothing wrong with coining irritance, but you must consider whether or not your audience would understand the word--or if you would do better to use one that already exists.

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