Things aren’t always what they seem, are they? For example, the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre isn’t a tube or even some sort of alien hovercraft, which is what it looks like, and irregardless isn’t a word, even though I’ve been saying and writing it for years.
The ultra-modern Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre is the design of one of the UK’s most creative architects, Will Alsop. From material to shape to function, it’s a marvel of ingenuity and economy, and has become a landmark in the Cardiff Bay development.
So, if flattening Alsop’s tube out and covering it with a PVC “skin” makes for creative architecture, what happened to irregardless not being considered as a word, especially since its (presumed) first usage can be traced back to a newspaper report from Portsmouth, Ohio on April 11, 1874?
Well, the problem, like architecture, lies in its construction.
Irregardless has two negative parts, both a prefix and a suffix, added on to the main part of the word, regard. So, the word “regardless” already means to have no regard for something because of the suffix, less. Ir, on the other hand, is a prefix added to such words as irrelevant and irreverent to mean not relevant and not reverent.
By adding the “ir” to regardless, we’ve created a double negative, which, if this was a clause instead of a word, would cancel each other out making the word affirmative instead of negative. However, in language, the double negative is sometimes used for emphasis, although this is more common when we’re speaking than when we’re writing. And, admittedly, double negatives are also considered to be coarse or colloquial language, rather than the domain of professional writers and speakers.
But where does that leave me with “irregardless,” or is the question irrelevant?” When I decide, I’ll let you know.
Language is such a fun thing to play with, isn’t it?