Vocabulary Police

I don’t remember all that much about my Uncle Arlen. Wiry reddish hair, a strong northern accent, a penchant for sarcasm… Mostly vague recollections beyond that. One strong association, however, relates to Uncle Arlen’s feelings about the word “irregardless.”

“There is no such word!” he’d say. “‘Irregardless’ is not a word!”

He would point out that the word “regardless” already covers everything that is commonly intended with the misnomer “irregardless.” He’d argue that “irregardless” is essentially a double-negative: “without no regard.” One could say “regardless,” or one could say “irrespective.” But “irregardless?” That’s just plain wrong.

I’ve taken after my Uncle Arlen in this regard. I hope I’m not too crotchety — or even vocal — about my disdain for bad vocabulary. But I notice it. I’m sorry to say I notice it quite often. Don’t get me wrong: the adaptability of the English language is one of the greatest things it has going for it, and I would hate to lose that creative power to change words around and invent new words. In certain cases, however, our misuse of the English language just comes across as lazy and ignorant.

I realize that no one has hired me — or likely will hire me — to play the role of “Vocabulary Police” in our society. If it were up to me, however, these would be a few of the “most wanted suspects” that I’d pursue:

  • Comfortability: Definitely the number-one most wanted criminal word in my mind. I notice people in my circles saying it all the time — and if any word were to pull the inner “Uncle Arlen” out of me, this would be it. Why say “Comfortability” (six syllables) when you can just say “Comfort” (two syllables) and correctly convey the entire meaning of this thought?!?
  • Dependency: Some dictionaries would actually grant a level of legitimacy to this word. But the state of being dependent? I say we’ve already got a perfectly good word for that: “Dependence.”
  • Persistency: Why not just “Persistence?”
  • Conceptualization: Why not just “Concept?”
  • Anxiousness: Why not just “Anxiety?”
  • Rebelliousness: Why not just “Rebellion?”
  • Extensiveness: Why not just “Extent?”

I may well end up on the “wrong side of history” when it comes to these gripes. Older printed dictionaries omit most of these words; newer on-line dictionaries include many of them. The English language is constantly changing and adapting, and I can live with that. Regardless, I’m policing my own language — and I hope you will, too.

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