By Joe Diorio
My mother disliked the word “ain’t.” She’d say, “ain’t ain’t in the dictionary.”
Sorry, Mom, but ain’t is indeed in the dictionary; it has been around since 1749, according to Merriam-Webster. It is one of those words that grammatical purists dislike.
There are several words we may dislike. But they are words, nevertheless.
Case in point one: “I am so tired of seeing the word ‘irregardless’ everywhere I look,” carps one reader. “Can’t we get rid of it once and for all?”
Sadly, for the haters of “irregardless,” that word ain’t going anywhere. Yes, it is a word, first used, according to Merriam Webster, in 1785. Most trace its first appearance in the southeastern U.S. colonies. This is my long-winded way of saying that reader who is tired of seeing the word must be exhausted by now.
Lexicographers cringe over words like “irregardless.” Kory Stamper in her wonderful book Word by Word: the secret life of dictionaries spends an entire chapter explaining (apologizing?) that “irregardless” is a word. I also should note that Merriam Webster spends a good deal of time in its definition modifying its approval of the word and even urges the reader to use “regardless” instead.
Case in point two: “The sound of the phrase ‘take a listen’ is like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard,” another reader says in an email.
I feel your pain. Local TV reported that police have an audio tape containing the confession delivered by a convicted murderer. “Take a listen” the TV news reporter wrote in her August 7 Twitter feed, directing people to a hyperlink of the audio recording. As unnerving as the confession may be, hearing “take a listen” can work the nerves, too.
Irregardless of how the reader feels, “take a listen” is not incorrect. The word “listen” is often used as a noun, meaning it is correct to use the modifier “take” before it. Personally, I would simply say “listen.”
By the way, I have recently noticed that Instagram fans are using the phrase “give a follow” when mentioning another Instagram account worth their attention. Again, whilst “follow” is primarily a transitive verb, it also functions as a noun, so adding the verb “give” is correct. Annoying? Yes, perhaps. But also correct.
Lastly, there is a Facebook meme that says “Supposably. It still is not a word.” Welp, Facebook has been around since 2003 but “supposably,” an adverb form of the adjective “supposable,” is a word and was first used in 1627. I’ll wait while you go revise your Facebook news feeds.
Our survey said
In the August blog I talked about the pros and cons of creating an internal editorial style guide. I also asked readers to share their opinions via a short survey.
Turns out that internal style guides are popular. A total of 63 percent of the respondents say their employers do use an internally created editorial style guide, and a whopping 84 percent say the task of creating one fell on their shoulders.
Despite my admonition that creating a style guide should be avoided (just use the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style), 78 percent of the respondents say they find internal style guides useful. One respondent said internal guides cover grammatical nuances germane to their business.
“For example, is it Homeowners Insurance (initial cap) or homeowners’ insurance (lowercase)? […] I know my boss prefers caps […] especially if it relates to one of our products,” one respondent wrote.
With respect, the boss is wrong. The term “homeowners’ insurance” is generic and therefore lowercase. (At least I think it’s still generic, even though Ohio State University is trying to trademark the word “The.”) If it is a specific product, like “Acme Homeowners Insurance and Storm Doors,” then it would be uppercase. And, by the by, all that is covered in the AP Stylebook. But there I go digressing again.
I prefer a story shared by a colleague; TV journalist David North, who was participating in a summer boot camp for aspiring high school journalists at Stony Brook University along with a couple of other veteran TV reporters. “During my session [we] were confronted with a style/usage question from a student. All three of us reached into our bags to consult our copies of Strunk and White. I think (hope) we made a positive impression.” You did with me, David. Thanks.
Let’s write carefully out there, people.
Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee. You should tell your friends and colleagues about him.