My manager says “irregardless”. Should I say something?
June 22, 2020 3:53 PM   Subscribe

My manager, who is a highly successful and capable woman, says “irregardless”. My instinct is to leave well enough alone, but if it were me, I would be absolutely mortified and want to correct that ASAP. What’s the ethical course of action?
posted by Dragonness to Writing & Language (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My manager, who is a highly successful and capable woman

No; you do not need to say anything, nor should you.
posted by lovableiago at 3:56 PM on June 22, 2020 [54 favorites]

Let it go. This isn't spinach on her teeth, it's a common verbal quirk.
posted by headnsouth at 3:57 PM on June 22, 2020 [9 favorites]

To quote meriam-webster:
Is irregardless a word?

"Yes. It may not be a word that you like, or a word that you would use in a term paper, but irregardless certainly is a word. It has been in use for well over 200 years, employed by a large number of people across a wide geographic range and with a consistent meaning. That is why we, and well-nigh every other dictionary of modern English, define this word."

Does irregardless mean the same thing as regardless?

Yes. We define irregardless as "regardless." Many people find irregardless to be a nonsensical word, as the ir- prefix usually functions to indicates negation; however, in this case it appears to function as an intensifier. Similar ir- words, while rare, do exist in English, including irremediless ("remediless"), irresistless ("resistless") and irrelentlessly ("relentlessly).
As such, I'd lean toward accepting the descriptivist view of the English language and (in turn), my manager's decision to include 'irregardless' into her vocabulary. It is a perfectly cromulent word.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 3:57 PM on June 22, 2020 [116 favorites]

What is your objection? I'm a little mortified that you would judge someone, especially someone you consider otherwise capable, on the use of a simple word, irregardless of her other qualities.

Don't be a proscriptivist, it makes you sound like a snob. Let it go.
posted by epanalepsis at 4:00 PM on June 22, 2020 [28 favorites]

In these matters the only people we can safely correct are partners and children. Everyone else we have to suffer in silence.
posted by HotToddy at 4:04 PM on June 22, 2020 [18 favorites]

It’s correct usage. It’s your hang up.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:04 PM on June 22, 2020 [22 favorites]

My boss is not so hot at grammar but is in a position where he sends company wide emails. Pretty early on working for him I said hey, grammar is a hobby of mine, I'm happy to proof read any emails before they go live. He knew exactly what I meant and I knew exactly what I meant, but he said ok I'll keep that in mind and since then sends me all the important stuff to pre read. It makes him look good, makes the company look good, and it increases the trust in our working relationship. 10/10 would recommend making this offer if the situation calls for it.

But when he says things like fustrated and intensive purposes out loud while speaking do I correct him then? Or ever? The hell I do not. It has obviously not held him back professionally in any way and is none of my business.

I might correct a personal friend in this way, but not my colleagues.
posted by phunniemee at 4:06 PM on June 22, 2020 [32 favorites]

I hear you, and cringe when I hear it because it’s nonsensical, but would definitely not correct them and I wouldn’t let it get in the way of her status, likely a quirk of her upbringing, like my language and grammar.
posted by waving at 4:07 PM on June 22, 2020

highly successful and capable

Maybe this indication of how much this actually matters could cause you to look inwards.
posted by mhoye at 4:10 PM on June 22, 2020 [9 favorites]

On the other hand, after going to school in Germany and Austria for four years and learning German, I was indeed horrified at my English, even as a native English speaker (!), and learned to appreciate the tough love of so.many.people in Germany pointing out my German mistakes That helped me learn proper English every. Bottom line is that language is not a hill I want to die on but I do understand the desire to be corrected personally, but I would not do it to my boss or someone who has not indicated they want my input.
posted by waving at 4:18 PM on June 22, 2020

The only context in which I’d make this correction is if she specifically asked you to proofread a document for her and it contained irregardless. At that point you could suggest replacing it with regardless. Otherwise leave it alone.
posted by sallybrown at 4:30 PM on June 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

posted by SLC Mom at 4:33 PM on June 22, 2020 [8 favorites]

A wise friend once told me that job descriptions are an illusion and that at the heart of it we all have the same one.

Keep your boss happy and don’t make trouble for them.

I don’t agree with this take in all situations, but I most certainly do in yours.

Put another way, sure, you can do this. But are you prepared for how it’ll make you look or the waves, however insignificant, it might churn up?

Let it go. It doesn’t matter.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 4:34 PM on June 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

So your manager is communicating in a way that you understand (you’ve expressed no confusion about the usage), using real words that have been in use for longer than anyone you know has been alive, and your inclination is to “correct them” because you find their word choices “mortifying”? You need to take a big step back and examine yourself, cuz (that’s short for “because”; hopefully you don’t find my usage upsetting) the issue at hand is yours alone.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 4:34 PM on June 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

Thanks for your responses. You've exposed the source of my "if it were me I'd be absolutely mortified" attitude. I am a non-native speaker of English myself. I started studying it in elementary school and through grad school when I majored in Pragmatics (a branch of Linguistics). Language, English specifically, is now my livelihood, so you could say I have hangups about my own speech that native speakers do not.

To be clear, I don't judge my manager, I view it as a quirk, like someone said. But I would be mortified if it were me and want to know. Hence my question, which you've answered loud and clear.
posted by Dragonness at 4:38 PM on June 22, 2020 [20 favorites]

your manager’s word choice is not ‘proper’ english, but it is relatively common english. worth knowing the difference, but not deserving of mortification.
posted by inire at 4:46 PM on June 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

“Proper” English is not a thing, and it never has been.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 4:52 PM on June 22, 2020 [19 favorites]

It's a shame that your education in linguistics increased, rather than decreased, your intolerance of linguistic variation - including in yourself. This is not how it should be.

Your boss may be judged (e.g. by people like you) for her use of "irregardless", but it is a common English word. It's not spinach in your teeth. It's a pointless, illogical, gate-keeping peeve that we can choose not to reinforce.

Leave it alone unless she makes it clear to you that she wants assistance. Think of it like critiquing how she dresses on the job. Maybe she doesn't wear pantyhose in the summer - which is a small, stupid rule some people care about and many people don't follow. It might legitimately be the case that someone is judging her for it, but (a) that person is wrong, and (b) there's no way good way to bring it up unless you're specifically asked for advice.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:55 PM on June 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

As a recovering prescriptivist*, this is the kind of thing I would completely ignore in internal/informal communications. If it were something that involved external or formal communications, I'd offer to proofread it and make sure it was in line with our organization's style guide.

As others have suggested, if your manager is highly successful and capable, this is probably not holding her back. Correcting someone's language or way of speaking is extremely, extremely difficult to do without causing justified offense.

* I encourage you to come over to this side. It's more interesting and fun, plus one spends so much less time grinding one's teeth, lol.
posted by Lexica at 5:08 PM on June 22, 2020 [8 favorites]

If you "don't look like a native speaker" (e.g., Latinx or Asian) and your boss does, you should consider that people are likely to police your grammar way more strictly than your boss's.

Painfully correct prescriptivist grammar is an important professional skill when people take any deviation from textbook English as a sign of poor language competency.

If people assume you do know better, grammatical "mistakes" are generally dismissed as deliberate code-switching or as choice of an informal register.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 5:13 PM on June 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

It isn't mortifying. it's a common colloquial error or "error" that is colorful or grating depending on how you feel about the speaker.

as a copyeditor I always fixed it without exception, and I explained to writers why it was not correct and why "regardless" was correct because that was understood to be my job.

I would never correct anyone's spoken English under any circumstances (unless I was an ESL teacher, which I never have been, or unless they asked me what word was correct, which happens but VERY rarely.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:13 PM on June 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think it would be worth mentioning if you're coming out of a meeting with higher-ups or clients, and she specifically asks for feedback.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:19 PM on June 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

i mean, probably not? you—and everyone else—knows what your manager means.

“Proper” English is not a thing, and it never has been.

posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 5:31 PM on June 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would wince on the inside because "irregardless" is definitely a personal peeve for me, but I would not correct any spoken use of this word. Even in business settings, spoken language is more colloquial.

I would definitely correct this word if asked to proofread/copyedit, but I'm the acknowledged grammar/spelling nerd in my workplace.
posted by desuetude at 5:35 PM on June 22, 2020

I once corrected a former colleague who regularly said this. She very politely never spoke to me again. I was an asshole and deserved her shunning. Don't be like me.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 5:42 PM on June 22, 2020 [16 favorites]

I have a lot of people in my personal and professional life who are non-native English speakers, and I've noticed that some of them are far more sensitive to things like grammar than native English speakers are -- even the ones who "look like a native speaker." I've asked about it and it does seem that for some of these folks it's more of a reflection of their own (perceived) insecurity (and perhaps pride) and not intended to be snide.

I've worked as an ESL tutor and as an ___ to English translator, and even in that context it was a challenge as people can take that kind of feedback/critique quite personally. On the other hand, my previous manager would, in fact, be mortified and would want to know... but I think that's quite the exception and not the rule.
posted by sm1tten at 6:32 PM on June 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

A coworker and I used to quietly snicker at people that used that word, and I would make sure to use it in every conversation with him just to watch him tense up and then see me grinning.

I'm fired, aren't I?

See also it's vs its, another groaner slash litmus test.
posted by intermod at 8:40 PM on June 22, 2020

I am a native English speaker and my boss is not. I'm a "grammar is a hobby" person and he knows this and has asked me to give feedback about his use of language. I do this by proofreading, if he uses an idiom in a way that doesn't make sense to me, or if he asks. If he's just talking and his meaning is clear I never do. Same with colleagues who don't worry about your/you're etc.
posted by a moisturizing whip at 9:06 PM on June 22, 2020

When did being polite start extending to pretending that no one ever needs a helping hand? If my mathematical figures were incorrect in a business sense, I sure as hell would hope someone corrected them. Language is no different.

Language is quite different, though. There’s less of an agreed-upon “correct” way of expressing oneself, especially in English, especially orally. Language usage can and does change. Additionally (but no less importantly), insistent policing of usage and grammar is tied to classism and racism. So it is not the same as pointing out a calculation error.

OP, I can understand your dilemma, since you would want to be told if you were making such an error. But I think you’re wise to let it go uncommented-on in your boss’ speech, as you have decided.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:26 PM on June 22, 2020 [7 favorites]

As a German native speaker, let me assure you that I, too, have been taught that words like "irregardless" as well as some grammatical inconsistencies that native English speakers display with shameless abandon, are nothing short of diabolical, and that the kind thing would be to correct them discreetly and asap.

I have learnt to keep my mouth shut.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:59 PM on June 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

Maybe think about your old pragmatics buddies Grice and Austin and what they’d say? I suspect they’d assume that you understand what your boss is trying to communicate here and would want you to continue to be cooperative.

In many English speaking communities, this is now a full fledged word and not considered incorrect or improper.

Reminds me of when I was younger and ‘hopefully’ wasn’t considered correct in the way it’s commonly used. Seems funny to think of it that way now.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:31 PM on June 22, 2020

I have taught ESL and done an enormous amount of proofreading both formally and informally, which is to say that I'm often in contexts where it's my job to correct people's grammar. I almost certainly wouldn't correct someone else's grammar or syntax outside of those circumstances, except in a few narrow others: 1) A good friend who has native speaker fluency but occasionally says things that might be misunderstood. I correct her grammar every so often, partly because she asks me usage questions regularly, so we already have an established relationship where that's welcome. I don't correct mistakes of hers that don't impede meaning or intended implication without being asked, though. 2) I correct current and former students every so often in similar situations. 3) With a superior, unless I'm being explicitly asked for feedback (on content, grammar, messaging/style), I'd only intervene in the case of grave errors or obvious typos (like: "Don't you mean public?").

As others have said more nuancedly, English is an evolving language; misuse a word too often and its very definition evolves to encompass the new meaning. Pretty soon nonplussed will formally mean its opposite.
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:40 PM on June 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

If my mathematical figures were incorrect in a business sense, I sure as hell would hope someone corrected them. Language is no different.

Spoken language is entirely different. Telling someone they are not using language they way you think it should be used is not correcting them, or helping them, in some objective sense.
posted by os tuberoes at 12:31 AM on June 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

“Proper” English is not a thing, and it never has been.

yes and no - this is why i say ‘proper’ rather than proper.

there is a conception, especially in large parts of the so-called upper echelons of society, that certain words - such as ‘regardless’ - are objectively correct english and other words - such as ‘irregardless’ - are not. that is a fact, albeit one that is slowly changing. (and given that, denying the existence of the dialect of ‘proper english’, as opposed to the objective correctness of ‘proper english’, seems to me to be a mark of poor descriptivism)

as a result, there are a moderate number of people (disproportionately those in positions of greater power) who will judge you as speaking or writing incorrectly if you use the word ‘irregardless’. that, again, is a fact. a regrettable one, certainly, but still a fact. if you are fortunate enough to be immune from the consequences of such judgment, bully for you. others are not. and while we might someday get to a point where prescriptivist judgment is (for all intensive porpoises) a spent force, we’re not there yet.

better, therefore, to be aware of the difference - for practical purposes, if nothing else.

tl;dr - ‘proper’ english very obviously exists, it is the dialect of many of US / UK society’s centres of power, and if you have to deal with people in those circles, it is better for you to know the dialect while we foment the glorious descriptivist / luxury communist revolution.
posted by inire at 1:47 AM on June 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

One way to look at this, in the tell-or-don't-tell way is: if you understood the meaning of the person's statement despite the wrong word, then bringing up the wrong word is a derail, even after the fact. The conversation wasn't about the use of language, it was probably something work related and the work issue that was being discussed should be your focus, not whether or not irregardless was the proper use of the word.

For example, if your manager printed something out on a non-photocopier-laser-printer and asked you to "please pick up the letter off the copier" -- if you don't have a copier, you don't start debating the proper terminology for the thing the letter is sitting on, you just go pick it up because it is clear from context what the person meant. Yes, they were incorrect, but the level of requiring them to be correct doesn't exceed "good enough to communicate what needs to be done".

If the word adds confusion, of course, ask them to verify the meaning of what they said; we have two customers with very similar names and my employees once in a while catch me mixing them up, and I appreciate the correction since I could accidentally be giving them wrong information through incorrect use of a word.

If the work task was "please read this email before I send it and let me know if it makes sense", then yes, point out irregardless. The task then is to correct language usage, and that's the point of being asked.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:11 AM on June 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

My answer is still going to be "no" but I want to be more forgiving about the instinct.

Since Merriam-Webster appeared early defending the word, it's worth noting that "irregardless" is marked as non-standard in Merriam-Webster and pretty much every reference work. The bit of M-W quoted above is their on-brand, cheeky response to people who object to it even being listed in the dictionary. (I also like their defense of nu-cu-lar as a pronunciation for "nuclear").

You could ask yourself if this were another nonstandard usage (y'all, ain't, etc.) would you remark on it? If it's your kid, maybe. If they asked you for feedback on a formal presentation, or to proofread a paper or presentation. If you were assigned a role that involves this as a job function. Otherwise you assume they know what they are doing and move on.

Irregardless (and a pet peeve of mine, "simplistic" to mean "simple") might be a bit different because people might not know they are considered nonstandard usage, and a subset of those might actually be interested in learning it. But unless you know they want the feedback, it's not appropriate to nitpick.
posted by mark k at 10:04 AM on June 23, 2020

My answer is no because irregardless is acceptable, if if not preferable. However, if they were mispronouncing a word, I would bring it to their attention privately.

I had a manager who pronounced minutie as min-EWT-ay (with a hard T and a considerable pause where I've put the second hyphen) in meetings with clients and colleagues, all while being a word he seemed to love to use.

I told him privately and he was of course mortified, but only after considerable disbelief that I was correct. The downside is that instead of pronouncing it correctly going forward he chose to never use the word again for fear that someone would publicly praise him for finally doing so.
posted by dobbs at 11:00 AM on June 23, 2020

As a native speaker, here’s a perspective on “correct” usage;
A lot of native English speakers deploy the idea of “correct English” as a way to emphasize who has had access to formal education and who has not. It’s also a way to reinforce negativity re: speakers of non-standard English.
English is, as we joke, not really a language. It’s 4 languages under a trench coat and hat insisting everything is perfectly normal. The history of English is a constantly evolving mess and it always has been.

So you not only have gone so far as to learn this f’d-up irregular language, up you get a pass; you don’t have to buy into the bullshit, and can just communicate. 😉
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:51 AM on June 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

One way to look at this, in the tell-or-don't-tell way is: if you understood the meaning of the person's statement despite the wrong word, then bringing up the wrong word is a derail, even after the fact.

I would disagree. Communication is about connotation, not merely denotation. There are clearly occasions in which pointing out that a message was conveyed in nonstandard grammatical form would be helpful to a coworker, even if that person conveyed his or her message clearly.

Or put otherwise:

That's fucking bullshit. It ain't just what ya say, it's how ya say it. When wun-a-ya buddies is yapping some kinda crap at work that ain't in words that's good fer work, ya gotta say sumpin, even if all dose folks round da table got what hez waz tryina say.

I do agree that "irregardless" doesn't rise to the standard of requiring a unsolicited correction - and that standard is extremely high when it's your boss - but clarity is not always sufficient.

David Foster Wallace explores these issues in great depth in Tense Present.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:29 PM on June 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's nothing pacifically wrong with it.
posted by flabdablet at 10:17 PM on June 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would print something out about it and anonymously slip it into her paper inbox
posted by Jacqueline at 2:01 AM on June 24, 2020

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