One word guaranteed to make any English language peever foam at the mouth is ‘irregardless’, but it may be much ado about almost nothing, because the number of times it is actually used is vanishingly small compared to the perfectly standard word ‘regardless’. This illustrates English language blogger Barrie England’s ‘First Law’: namely ‘The amount of discussion in social media of any point of English grammar, vocabulary, punctuation or spelling is in inverse proportion to the frequency of its occurrence in the language’.
The British National Corpus (100 million words) contains just two occurrences alongside 1531 of ‘regardless’, a ratio of 755.5 to 1. One of those was recorded in a class discussion in an English high school, and the other in a published book. The Corpus of Contemporary American English (450 million words) contains 41 and 12753, a ratio of 311 to 1. 26 of those are tagged as ‘spoken’, 9 as ‘fiction’, 3 as ‘academic’, 2 as ‘news’ and 1 as ‘magazine’.
Two of the entries in COCA are negative (‘Finding the word “irregardless” in the dictionary does not make its use acceptable’ (news) and ‘[He’s] a mommy’s boy and a fascist, he says “nuculear” and “irregardless”’ (fiction) and one recognises the dispute (‘Each session costs one hundred dollars, sir, regardless or irregardless, both are acceptable now, of the treatment received’ (fiction).
Google Ngram Viewer records ‘irregardless’ occurring 0.035 times per million words and ‘regardless’ 20.18, a ratio of 576 to 1, and a general Google search returns ‘about’ 528,000 and 270,000,000 results respectively, a ratio of 511 to 1. Intriguingly, Google Ngrams shows that use of both ‘irregardless’ *and* ‘regardless’ has declined in the last 10 years.
By any standards, ‘irregardless’ is used a fraction of one percent as many times as ‘regardless’, at least in the sources canvassed by those search tools, and many of the ‘about’ 528,000 results of the Google search are mere recordings of the word in dictionaries or discussions of it by language bloggers rather than its actual use. For example, the first 20 results include:
* Wikipedia and Wiktionary
* dictionaries (Oxford, Merriam-Webster, Cambridge and American Heritage, Dictionary.com, The Free Dictionary and Wordreference.com)
* a short note by Professor Paul Brians at Washington State University, longer discussions by Grammar Girl, Jonathan Owens (Huffington Post reproducing his post on Arrant Pedantry), Grammarist, Tim Moynihan on Cnet.com (the only positive supporter of the word – ‘the baddest-ass word of all time … It doesn’t care what the rules of grammar are … If you don’t like it, don’t use it [but] I think “irregardless” should be embraced and celebrated. And damn it, I’m going to use it every chance I get’)
*The Urban Dictionary (whose contributors are unrelentingly negative, some using worse grammar or style than they claim ‘irregardless’ to be, some advocating correction by physical violence and others non-correction on the grounds that ‘irregardless’ is a useful sociolinguistic marker)
* a Facebook page named ‘Irregardless is NOT a word!’ (2400 likes, links to Wikipedia and Oxford Dictionaries, both of which unambiguously record it as a word, and the comment by the page’s creator: ‘Suggest this page to your friends irregardless of whether they will join or not!’)
* and Irregardless Café and Catering of Raleigh, North Carolina, which has gained excellent reviews of its food, and seemingly attracted no comments about the name.
Wikipedia notes: ‘Australian linguist Pam Peters (The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, 2004) suggests that irregardless has become fetishized because natural examples of this word in corpora of written and spoken English are greatly outnumbered by examples where it is in fact only cited as an incorrect term’ and Jonathan Owens writes: ‘We talk about the word irregardless–mostly just to complain about it–far more than we actually use it.’