THE Merriam Webster Company argues that millions of people use the word ‘‘irregardless’’ and have used it over two hundred years . . . hence the legitimacy of the inclusion of the word in their dictionary. If hogwash is too strong, and I must continue to be within check of my manners, is this argument not embarrassing?
The thinking of the American Heritage Dictionary authorities is that if one million people say two and zero equals 20, we must agree. And that as long as they have been having this for their answer for two hundred years that must be the correct answer. Not me! Not this small group of polite, what do you call us, disirregardlessers? Oh dear me!
Imagine! How many Zimbabwean people, including very educated ones, have we heard and continue to hear saying a person who has been pensioned is a pensioneer? Does the number of people who do not know the word ‘‘pensioner’’ reverse its correctness in favour of ‘‘pensioneer’’? Or they cannot be part of your American-dictionary argument about numbers and length of period of use because they are black and unimportant learners of English? Has your ‘‘fine’’ dictionary forgotten about Malapropism? Confusing one word for another because the words sound the same? And have you forgotten that several words are manufactured, and therefore are artificial, owing to this confusion called Malapropism? Must we accept ‘‘comprise of’’ because there is ‘‘consist of’’ in English Language? And must we accept ‘‘accept’’ in place of ‘‘except’’, ‘‘cite’’ in place of ‘‘sight or site’’, because millions of people use them interchangeably, and have been doing so over two hundred years; therefore the wrong becomes right?
How many people have we heard ‘‘discussing about’’ things and for how many years? Does that make “discuss about’’ correct English? And how many Zimbabweans call travelling bags and suitcases ‘‘monarchs’’, call shorts ‘‘a short’’ or trousers ‘‘a trousers’’, overalls ‘‘an overall’’, ‘‘smell beer’’ instead of ‘‘smell of beer’’, ‘‘eat rice with chicken’’ instead of ‘‘rice and chicken’’, ‘‘repeat things again’’ instead of simply ‘‘repeat them’’, ‘‘return back’’ instead of simply ‘‘return’’,travel ‘‘in a bus’’ instead of ‘‘on a bus’’, temper with dangerous gadgets instead of tamper with, fix people as if they were machines and fire them from work instead of dismiss them? People who buy ‘‘their’’ clothes instead of buying clothes for themselves . . . marry ‘‘their’’ wives or husbands . . . people who are written instead of their names! The list is so long, so long that I am almost completing compiling Volume 1 of these common errors for publication. This is a serious problem in Zimbabwean English teaching and learning and therefore not a joke . . . I am sure the rest of Africa!
If the correct existence of such errors were determined by how many millions of people speak and write that way, and over how many years, would these incorrect English expressions not be correct by now?
Serious Christians buy and use the King James Version for original Biblical truth. Other ‘‘coloured’’ versions contain coloured or adulterated interpretations of God’s word. Accordingly, serious learners of English buy and use serious dictionaries . . . I will not sell them here for any company. But for those that support nonsense words like ‘‘irregardless’’ and have the temerity to defend them in public . . . No thank you!
We know admitting that you have included artificial words or tawdry words in your definitions would be tantamount to a foolhardy marketing tragedy. But even if you become adamant that nonsense makes sense, the difference is the same because we will recommend only one dictionary (I almost mentioned it) and discourage our students, especially in Zimbabwe and Africa from buying funny dictionaries that defend embarrassing common errors. What kind of lexicographers are they? Authors of write left-hand dictionaries that have no clue or pretend they have no clue that the anaphoric inflexion (prefixal) ‘‘irr’’ means ‘‘not.’’ See example: in ‘‘irreversible’’ . . . accordingly meaning ‘‘not reversible” ? And ‘‘irr’’ in ‘‘irresponsible’’ meaning ‘‘not responsible’’. . . etc. Of course also that the (suffixal) inflexion ‘‘less’’ means ‘‘without’’ as in ‘‘clueless’’ accordingly meaning ‘‘without a clue’’ and ‘‘tubeless’’ meaning ‘‘without a tube’’ etc. So there is no way ‘‘not regardless without regard’’ would make sense in the same world of Dos and Dont’s of word-building! If ‘‘irregardless’’ is not a nonsense word, I do not know what will be. The logic of prefixal and suffixal inflexions in word-building simply does not add up here. In one word, this is a trash word . . . in better language, may be just a bad word, a silly word, an unpalatable . . . tasteless word. Not surprising. It is dictionaries like the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition,2018, that define and defend and define words like ‘‘fire’’ to refer to ‘‘dismissing somebody from work’’, irregardless or unregardless and call them synonyms of ‘‘regardless.’’
I am tempted to say to the Americans, ‘‘Keep your dictionaries to yourselves! And we keep or ‘regardless’ to ourselves.” But you and I know the danger of reminding ourselves of old unpopular and unwise utterances in public. So I will not say that. We have though, very serious challenges with our African students or learners of English especially in their school examinations. We cannot gamble with such verbal permissiveness in the language of education and examinations especially when we know a lot of our students write Cambridge-set and marked examinations. Learning is neither a joke nor a luxury in Africa. Poor governments and parents invest a lot of time and money in education and we cannot help but adopt only best practices. And these daft defences of obviously wrong or artificial words are not good for us. Come to think of it! May be we are really making a storm in a teacup really or making a mountain out of a mole hill. The dictionary in question is American, and only American, not English. May be lack of knowledge about whether the dictionary one is using is American or English is really the source of these angry letters and friendly wars. And ignorance about what constitutes sterling English and what does not.
I speak as an independent scholar and expert in this area. My views are not necessarily those of my government or the paper and radio station that I work for. Challenge me on my own . . . if you dare. Engage me by whatever means . . . from whatever part of the world . . . whoever you are. You are most welcome! I am open to both worthwhile learning and criticism . . . distillation of knowledge, wisdom and intelligence, not imprudent underestimation of each other’s acumen. But be ready for serious engagement and do your homework before you engage.
We have a serious obligation to make our children learn English language with the honour and dignity they deserve.
To our learners of English in schools, do not listen to imprudent or daft arguments by people obsessed with empty or sterile public debate on what is error and what is not. Listen to voices of reason. Be humble. Do not let anyone confuse you. If it happens, ask, and ask and ask again . . . until you have learnt the correct facts, acknowledged rules of grammar and international standards of verbal communication intelligence and skills. If you are a serious school teacher, a lecturer, an education officer or inspector, even a student, why not . . . engage me head-on, one-on-one, eye-to-eye, on any controversies or English language problems you may have wisely or otherwise harboured on your mind for a long time.
Feel free to be my guest on The Radio Teacher on Diamond FM Radio openly on air. Alternatively visit me at The Manica Post’s Education desk. Make a date with me on cell phone and App on 0773 883 293 or email address [email protected]
English language and Literature are the Physics and Pure Maths of the Arts. Enjoy.