Yes, 'irregardless' is a valid word in English

In last week’s column, we looked at a verbatim excerpt from Pen Cop, a media language critic. While the pen cop does a good job highlighting the mistakes journalists make, his, or her greatest observable weakness is the language used. An element of haughtiness blinds the Pen Cop to simple grammatical errors he or she makes.

A reader responding to the December 3, 2018 Newsletter had this to say: “You might want to desist from ‘Who the hell,’ it takes away from an article that does raise more than a few localisms in our use of the language”. Indeed, to a communicator, this is sound advice.

In the newsletter, Pen Cop asks: “Who the hell introduced this nonsensical word “irregardless” to the Kenyan lexicon?” This raises a fundamental question. Do we have a Kenyan lexicon? I ask, because a lexicon is variously defined as a ‘dictionary’, ‘vocabulary,' ‘reference book’ or ‘word list’.

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To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing like a Kenyan lexicon, unless we are talking about the formless Sheng language. That leaves us with the universal lexicons, one of which is the Merriam Webster dictionary.

Distribution licence

Webster has this to say: ‘Irregardless was popularised in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its increasingly widespread spoken use called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that "there is no such word."

"There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose.”

This being the case, Pen Cop unfairly lampoons a journalist for using a word that is not commonly used; not that the journalist picked it from the ether.

In another instance, Pen Cop poses: “Charged in court? Where else might they be charged?” after a journalist wrote: ‘Four traders have been charged in a court in Nairobi for selling alcohol without an import and distribution licence…’

To believe that one can only be charged before a court is to demonstrate a limited view of the word ‘charge’. Variously, to charge (verb), means to ‘accuse’, ‘indict’, ‘allege’ ,’blame’ ‘attack’, ‘storm’, ‘assault’ etcetera. Two issues stand out here; the use of peaceful means to an end, and the use of force to an end.

The point is, a village miscreant can be charged with theft before village elders, the chief or in court. Political parties have disciplinary committees before which members are charged with various offences.

Take the case of Orange Democratic Movement’s Aisha Jumwa, charged with going against party ideals. Churches excommunicate members charged with wrong doing and later found guilty after being accorded the chance to defend themselves before a disciplinary committee.

Yet, another error Pen Cop made was to write: ‘Either the reporter (and sub) does not know the meaning of…’ This statement violates the use of the words ‘do’ and ‘does’ which, admittedly, trouble many. ‘Does’, according to the dictionary definition, is the third person singular present tense of the verb ‘do.’ 

Verb 'do'

While the verb “do” is used when referring to more than one person or thing, the word “does” is used in sentences that refer to a single person or thing. Because the aforementioned critic specifically referred to a reporter and a sub editor (two people), to have used the verb ‘does’ was to violate a grammatical rule. The critic should have written: ‘Either the reporter (and sub editor) do not know the meaning of…’

Finally, the following statement by Pen Cop is ambiguous: ‘A man has sued Beta for a condom burst that led to his getting an STI, which he passed to his wife who then left him.' Because the rule of the thumb is that nothing should be subjected to more than two interpretations in journalism, one wonders; which condom burst? Did the condom burst while at the factory, during transportation or use, and by whom?

How does a burst condom lead to an STI? What is an STI? One gets the impression the STI is a tangible thing that the man physically passed to his wife at the exact time he got it (as he would a piece of cake). Further, on receiving the STI, the wife promptly left him. This sounds episodic and ridiculous, but it is the message that comes across.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

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Language UseIrregardlessHillary Orinde