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A Word, Please: She's in holiday trouble irregardless

October 28, 2011|By June Casagrande

I never dress up for Halloween. But as the holiday season progresses through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, I could easily pass for an ogre.

That’s because this time of year, when family and friends come together, is also a time when I find myself in the same awkward situation year after year: Someone at a get-together wants to talk grammar with me, thrilled to finally have someone to share their disgust with rampant language abuse.

Then they tell me their No. 1 pet grammar peeve. Then, about nine times out of 10, I have to decide whether to tell them they’re wrong or just drown myself in the punch bowl.

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If my holiday-party average is any guide, I’d estimate that approximately 90% of the grammar errors that most irk people aren’t errors at all. Perhaps the most common gripe I hear is about “irregardless.” I nod as a fellow party guest says it sounds awful. I smile sympathetically as she says it sounds uneducated. But when she says it’s wrong, I’m in a tough spot.

“Actually,” I say, “‘irregardless’ is in the dictionary. It’s a synonym of regardless.”

That fast, I’m the bad guy.

“No way, I won’t accept that,” is a common response from those not within reach of a pitchfork. But I’m just the messenger. “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary,” “Webster’s New World College Dictionary” and the “American Heritage Dictionary” all allow it, though they call it “nonstandard.”

“Literally” comes up a lot in social grammar chat. Many people are driven nuts by how often people use it wrong, for example, in a sentence like “I was literally blown away.”

Unless you’re a tornado survivor, grammar sticklers say, that’s just wrong. And unless I’m lucky enough to have my mouth too full of pumpkin pie to speak, I have a decision to make. Do I nod and agree? Or do I deliver some bad news?

All three of the above dictionaries allow “literally” as an “intensive,” rendering a sentence like “The town was literally brought to its knees” as technically acceptable.

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