But, it’s in the Dictionary!
Sometimes readers respond to my rejection of a given word or spelling with the argument that it’s “in the dictionary.”
My response is that dictionaries are not scripture. Just because a word is in the dictionary does not mean that it’s an acceptable choice for all speakers and writers in all contexts. The recent discussion on mankind vs humankind certainly bears that out.
Then there’s the fact that more than one variety of “standard English” is spoken and written in the world. British speakers write honour where Americans write honor. Americans write the noun percent as one word; British speakers as two: per cent. Region and audience will determine which are the “correct” spellings.
A good dictionary is the writer’s indispensable tool. I consult both the OED and Merriam-Webster Unabridged in the process of writing every post. I do not, however, take the view that because a particular spelling is included as an entry or given as an alternate spelling that it is “just as good as” a more conventional word or spelling.
I’ll give just two words to illustrate: alright and irregardless. Both words have separate entries in both of my dictionaries.
alright: a frequent spelling of all right –OED
alright: in reputable use although all right is more common –Merriam-Webster
irregardless:probably blend of irrespective and regardless; [nonstandard] –Merriam-Webster
irregardless: in nonstandard or humorous use: regardless –OED
The spelling alright is to be found in Middle English. The Online Etymology Dictionary points out that in modern use the spelling is “attested since 1893.” Nevertheless, the spelling alright screams “incorrect” at me. I would never use it in my own writing, and it distracts me in the writing of others.
As for “irregardless,” I might use the word as a speech tag to characterize a fictional character, but I’d never use it in my own speech or writing. Other speakers and writers, on the other hand, have embraced the word.
Dictionaries, like spell checkers, are useful up to a point. The “point” is the place at which the writer’s background, education, personality, and purpose are called into play.
Without a single red underline, my spell checker permits me to write
I seen there faces threw the window.”
It’s up to me whether or not I want to leave it that way.
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