Every spell checker I have, both ones that automatically spell check and those run after finishing a document or draft, seems to consider the word unironically to be incorrect. I have heard the word used in conversation plenty, and have seen it written or typed on at least several occasions that I recall immediately. Also, it feels natural to use it in a sentence, and its meaning appears relatively obvious at least as far as I'm concerned.

I looked it up online to find out that: at the very least, Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster consider it to be a valid word. I've also discovered that my spell checkers are bothered by the word unironic, but not of course by the word ironic. I feel fairly confident that unironic must be a word... However, it's also completely possible I'm simply mistaken.

So, what's the verdict English Language Stack Exchange Community? Is it a word that is just being incorrectly flagged, or is it commonly used but not technically valid?

  • 9
    It's in most dictionaries (and most people will understand what it means) so it's valid, spell checkers included in computer applications will often have relatively limited dictionaries (suited to emails and business documents) so they're far from definitive. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 7:01
  • I sort of assumed this may be the case. But, I find it interesting that even with relatively limited dictionaries they don't include a word like unironic.
    – Anirath
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 7:37
  • 3
    What makes a "valid word"? Simply, whether it's used and understood. Most dictionaries have greater coverage than most word-lists used by spellcheckers. That said, if you can't add a word you know to be correct, you need a better spellchecker. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 9:45
  • 4
    I treat spellcheckers as untrustworthy guides on my language journey. They help me for hours and then suddenly lead me off a cliff. Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 10:02
  • 2
    I agree with all of y'all. I was simply curious if it was considered a real word if you will. I was fairly certain it would be, but just wanted to see what everyone would have to say about it. And yes @TobySpeight I can add words to the spell checker, and if I couldn't I would consider it a poor one as well.
    – Anirath
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 10:57

2 Answers 2


Here is an Ngram chart of usage frequency for unironically for the period 1900–2019 (the corresponding Ngram graph is here, in case the chart URL no longer works):

As the chart indicates, the word has been in detectable use for more than 100 years and has grown significantly more common during the period since the year 2000 than it was before that.

A Google Books search for unironically finds a small swarm of early occurrences in the period 1921–1923. From Arnold Bennett, "Mr. Prohack," in The Delineator (November 1921):

"You will get used to it, Arthur," said Sir Paul indulgently but not unironically. "You're in a nervous state and your judgment's warped. Now, I never even heard your famous clock strike ten."

From Edmund Blunden, The Bonadventure: A Random Journal of an Atlantic Holiday (1923):

Bicker, the editor, instead of reviewing his admired literature in his journal, lengthened breakfast by doing so there viva voce. He was all for Bœotian situations, and, on occasion, his cold re-dishing was tactfully ended by a relief conversation on religion, the keynote of which was in the unironically meant remark: "He was darned religious, but he was a darned good man."

And from Richard Curle, Into the East: Notes on Burma and Malaya (1923):

The town [Singapore], like a camel in the desert, was living on its hump, was living on hope. Its huge fabric reminded one unironically of a whited sepulchre; it is the product of trade and without trade it is a mere shell. Well, of course, not altogether, because its geographical position is its ultimate value, but to a large extent. Singapore was urgently in need of the reviving breath of industry.

The sense of the term is in each case, simply, "not ironically"—that is, without any awareness of or intention to express a contrast or incongruousness between a thing said and the thing or situation about which it was said.

Bennett and Blunden were Englishmen and Curle was a Scot, so it may be that the word first came into literary use in Great Britain. Be that as it may, the rise of unironically did not begin in earnest until the mid-1970s, after which it seems to have made considerable progress into mainstream written usage.

Even so, it bears noticing that a Google Ngram chart mapping the frequency of unironically (blue line) against the frequency of ironically (red line) for the period 1900–2019 suggests that the latter has made far more progress in frequency of usage over the past half-century than the former has (again, the corresponding Ngram graph is here):

In any event, unironically is certainly a word in good standing (outside the precincts of Microsoft Word, anyway), with a clear meaning and consistent usage over many decades to support it. Who (besides Microsoft) could ask for anything more?

  • Bruh unironically used "unironically" in 1921
    – Manchineel
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 1:35

Yes, it's a real word insomuch as most dictionaries include it. However, it's worth noting that inclusion in a dictionary isn't really the standard for what is a "real" English word. As a reformed prescriptivist, I definitely understand why most people believe that's the case, but really it is much more a matter of what @Toby Speight mentioned in a comment on the OP - can it be used to communicate effectively to another native English speaker? Words become words not by virtue of being added to a dictionary, but by being used by English speaking people.

A notable discourse on this is Kory Stamper's Word by Word. Stamper is a Lexicographer for Merriam-Webster and while the book sounds like it should be horribly dry, it's actually an interesting read. A big part of what a lexicographer does is find words in use and adds them to the dictionary. But said words are already in common usage before they find their way into the dictionary.

  • 'Words become words not by virtue of being added to a dictionary, but by being used by Ø English speaking people'. I'd add 'a reasonable number of' at the designated position. But before a candidate is generally accepted as a neologism, there is usually a time gap, and while inclusion in a respectable dictionary shows that that is over, claiming wordness before this happens (and sometimes it doesn't / hasn't) is possibly worse than delayed acceptance. ELU looks for researchable (and researched) rather than anecdotal support in answers. Commented Jan 5 at 19:24
  • There is no "claiming wordness" (I would've gone with 'wordhood'). The generally true fact of the matter is that a word doesn't even need to be commonly used to be a word. A word is a conveyor of meaning. So long as that meaning is conveyed (e.g. - your use of "wordness"), then it's an absolutely valid word. The word cromulent springs to mind. Thagomizer is another. Both words don't even show up for correction in Chrome these days. Commented Jan 11 at 17:15
  • The first was an offhand comment made by Lisa Simpson on an episode of The Simpsons - the meaning of which was conveyed via context. The latter was invented whole cloth by Gary Larson in a The Far Side comic, and became common usage even amongst paleontologists - though not terribly commonly outside the scope of that particular field of science. Commented Jan 11 at 17:15
  • 'wordness': The quality of being a word or words [Dictionary.com] The debate over how much currency a candidate needs before it enters the lexicon has already been fought out on ELU; the fact that the word 'non-word' exists shows that not all candidates (John, Alice and Blackadder have used it. I think. It must be a word.) are considered words. Commented Jan 11 at 19:46
  • Regardless, there is no arbiter of the English language; no person, no body, no authoritative volume, which dictates "wordness". Regardless of prior discussions, it's a demonstrable and undeniable truth. Frankly, I find your entire argument here to be the antithesis of the 'About' section of your profile. Commented Jan 17 at 16:08

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