First things first. As soon as I typed “irregardless” into a Microsoft Word file, a red squiggle of death appeared. You know the type. That alone should give you pause, though the Editor/Spell Check tool is admittedly problematic.
Let’s break this conundrum into bite-size pieces:
“Ir” is a variant of “il,” “im,” and “in,” all meaning “not.” Why so many options for the same thing? That’s simply based on the etymology of the root word and its spelling — “im” is used before words beginning with “b,” “m,” and “p,” for example, and “ir” is used before words beginning with “r.”**
“Regard” in this form is an adverb, which is a word that modifies or clarifies the meaning of a verb, adjective, or another adverb.
“Less” is a suffix meaning “without” or “not having.”
So the prefix and suffix mean the same thing. This is essentially a double negative, which is why I didn’t even bother to define “regard” above. Because if you know the meaning of “regardless,” you know the intended meaning of “irregardless,” despite its nonsensical construction. If you right-click on the red squiggle of death, it will prompt you with the replacement “regardless.” If you text “irregardless,” autocorrect will more than likely change it to “regardless.” In fact, if you search “irregardless” in Merriam Webster, the listed definition is — you guessed it — “regardless.”
So why is “irregardless” in the dictionary, if not as a testament to its veracity as a legitimate word? Because Merriam Webster is as much responsible for reporting information based on usage as it is for the judicious treatment of those words. People persist in using “irregardless,” and Merriam Webster has magnanimously declared the word “nonstandard.”
Our take is a little less generous.
Regardless of what you’ll find in the dictionary, “irregardless” it is not a word inasmuch as it is a common error. Just because you’ve heard people use it doesn’t mean it’s right.
For those reasons, and the sake of clarity in your speech and writing, we recommend you avoid using “irregardless” except in obvious jest while raising one eyebrow or italicizing it for emphasis.
This brings us to another nails-on-the-chalkboard word-choice error that has threatened to fracture marriages, destroy friendships, and bring down entire nations (see reliable source here): the use of “supposably.”
This one is a little less cut-and-dried in that “supposably” is a recently legitimized word (cough — mistake — cough) with a somewhat similar meaning as “supposedly” (note the identical roots) at first glance. No double negative here. In fact, in some contexts, the two are synonyms. The shady circumstances of its birth aside, the problem with “supposably” comes down to two issues:
- People often mean “allegedly” when using “supposedly,” and “supposably” is most often defined as “able to be imagined or conceived.”
- “Capable of being supposed” is such a rarely used meaning that it’s difficult to even propose examples, much less allow for the intentional use of “supposably.”
We suppose that people say one (supposably) while meaning the other (supposedly), and after hearing the error, young minds and easily swayed persons simply took up the mixed usage on the assumption that the two words are unanimously interchangeable or that the new variant had always been correct.
This isn’t surprising. Even the brightest people can be influenced to admit to crimes they didn’t commit or to employ grammar faux paus with gusto. (If I have a wealth of experience in those situations, I will never own to it.)
In this case, we urge you to exercise caution by using “supposedly” when you mean “apparently” or “seemingly.” While it’s conceivable that “supposably” is a better choice in some instances, we don’t suppose you’ll come across such an example anytime soon.***
*We know “regard” can be further broken down into “re” and “gard” but we’d rather not beat a tired morpheme horse.
**For more information on prefixes and suffixes, search Merriam Webster under individual entries (e.g., ir-, -less, anti-, -ment). The hyperlinks in this blog post also provide excellent context/further reading.
***See “tongue in cheek.”