This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
Many, many years ago, I learned that “irregardless” wasn’t a word. It’s interesting that a couple of my colleagues and acquaintances used this word without knowing it’s bad grammar (and I’m not going to correct them). Imagine my surprise, when my educator-teacher wife used the word. I pointed out that “irregardless” wasn’t a word. She looked at me in disbelief, but then said, “You’re right, it’s a double negative.” Months later my wife dragged me to some meeting at my daughter’s junior high school. The purpose of the meeting escapes me, but they needed local community citizens not employed by the school district. I remember the vice-principal standing to welcome everyone and out of his mouth pops “irregardless.” My wife must have noticed my shudder at its use, because she writes in the corner of her note pad the letters: “PhD.”
Despite my high-and-mighty stance on proper grammar, I have nightmares of standing up in front of a huge crowd to give a public speech, and then spitting out that same non-word (or some other nonsense). It’s lucky for me that “regardless” [sic] doesn’t seem to be in my speaking vocabulary. As a possible defense, I’ve created a new word that might save me: “disirregardless.” It’s more nonsensical, but it does have the advantage of being a triple negative and therefore regains its intended negative status.
A few years ago I became interested in the science of consciousness and so picked up Daniel C. Dennett’s book, “Consciousness Explained.” On page 109, Dennett shows the classic picture of Laffer’s famous curve. (The concept that people will arrange their finances to minimize tax liability seems to escape academia.) Regardless [sic], Dennett pooh-poohs the curve using Martin Gardner’s example which also pooh-poohs the curve. (See this for example) Gardner’s neo-Laffer example shows the curve with extensive, wiggly lines between the two ends. It’s the Laffer curve with a bad hair day. What really intrigues me is how liberal academics can easily see presumed complexity of financial curves but can’t see the obvious similar complexity in CO2 infused climate models.
I remember a Scientific American article (I think. I’ve long since canceled my subscription to that mag.) on Dennett. Apparently Dennett was close to creating a machine with consciousness. Years have passed, and I haven’t heard or read about Dennett claiming success. I just went to his web site to see if he had made such a claim. I didn’t find one, but a Dennett YouTube video on “Free Will” caught my interest. I watched the video (trying to stay awake through the prolific onslaught of words) and discovered that Dennett speaks like he writes (or writes like he speaks). He takes a long time to get to the point. Imagine my surprise (well, not really) when at 53 minutes 48 seconds into the video he says “irregardless.”
Did Dennett make his point on “Free Will?” I’m not sure. Between his many off-subject bird walks and his single use of “irregardless,” I was lost. I think his audience missed the point too. The Q & A session didn’t seem to relate to the talk’s subject.
Apparently, Dennett can’t simplify his explanations to make them understandable and misuses words, but he definitely knows that Laffer was wrong. Disirregardless, there’s no doubt about that.
(P.S. Sadly, I read in an MAA news article [MAA Focus] of Martin Gardner’s death on May 22 of this year. He’s a very ingenious man of mathematics and puzzles, even though his politics got in the way of his neo-Laffer curve.)
There ain't nothing wrong with no double negatives!
It just depends how you interpret them. When John Major used a double negative, it was a positive. When your stereotypical cockney uses one it remains negative (singluar). Some languages have hard and fast rules about double negatives, English doesn't. It's context-dependent, which is why it is recommended to avoid them unless you want to risk causing confusion.
The English language's lack of a French-style academic body laying down the law leaves the floor open to all manner of grammar busybodies who feel entitled to define wot's proper and wot ain't as if langauage is some kind of fixed thing which (sorry, _that_) never changes and is the same in all places. Said busybodies aren't not referred to the King James Bible, or Shakespeare. What's actually proper is what works to enable communication of what wants to be communicated - sometimes this is indeed intentionally ambiguous.
I am however having difficulty in thinking of a context in which one would use "irregardless" in either a positive or reinforcing negative sense.
But that's just the opinion of someone who writes "PhD" and "technical writer" in the corner of his notepads. And with regard to your school head, do remember that a large number of PhDs are only barely literate.
There isn't an official academic body protecting the English language from 'undesirable' new words but on the other hand it isn't a complete free-for-all, there are still some self-appointed 'gatekeepers' who control what goes into dictionaries. In the UK the process is controlled by the elite dictionary 'Oxford English Dictionary' which hardly anybody in practice has access to as it costs an annual subscription of several hundred pounds per year.
As I understand it there has been a campaign to stop people using the word 'irregardless' in the USA for about eighty years. It's an amalgam of the words 'irrespective' and 'regardless', and is supposedly used quite a bit in everyday speech, occasionally making its way into newspapers.
This website pretty much sums the whole thing up:
The webpage title includes the phrase 'your teacher lied to you', which I would think is something to do with American teachers claiming that 'irregardless' is not a word but the scanned page from a dictionary says that it is a word.
The issue of people making up their own words seems to be a lot bigger in the US than the UK. In the UK people don't try to step too much outside their vocabulary range, whereas in the US you are more likely to get people trying to be more eloquent than might be advisable for their skill level with words. As I recall, George Bush was making up his own words quite regularly, including things like 'they misunderestimated me'.
Disregarding the fact that an 80 year-old campaign to prevent a word being used rather suggests the word is in common enough usage to irritate enough people with enough time on their hands to mount a campaign against it, the word is in fact in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Irregardless a. & adv. Chiefly N. Amer. (non standard or joc. E20. [Prob blend of IRRESPECTIVE and REGARDLESS] = REGARDLESS (New SOED, 4th edition, 1993).
This is also irregardless of the fact that the OED itself does not claim to define the language, but merely to report usage. A word is just something that at least two people agree on the meaning of (and the more people that use it and agree on its meaning the more likely it is to make it into the OED), and they were all made up at some point - God didn't come down and hand out the English language.
I don't like the word and can't think of any other than jocular situations (such as above) in which I would use it. Misunderestimate is a masterpiece of neologistic misejaculation, its impact is only enhanced for the fact that it first emanated from the mouth of a world-class buffoon.
I think I prefer not having a formal gatekeeper of language, the German whatever it is saddled us with a nonsensical spelling reform which, for example, tells us to use all letters in compound nouns rather than dropping one or more, which gives us monstrosities like Schritttempo or Schifffahrt, and sexed-down plurals, turning "Mitarbeiter" into "MitarbeiterInnen", the capital I in the middle of the word turning the feminine plural into a new genderless version. Fortunately our articles don't decline for gender in the plural form, otherwise we'd have needed a few more of those to go with the 32 already in use. Germans being good rule followers are making more of an attempt to follow the (now not so) new rules than many other people would.
If you see 'irregardless' in a dictionary it will be classified by the term 'non-standard'. The term 'non-standard' looks pretty innocuous at first sight, and some people might think it just means that an alternative spelling is being allowed, but in dictionary gatekeeper speak it means that it's not a proper word and educated people are not supposed to use it.
To elaborate on what I'm saying, this is the definition of 'non-standard':
The first definition given on the link, not standard, is trivial. The second definition is the one relevant to this discussion: "not conforming in pronunciation, grammatical construction, idiom, or word choice to the usage generally characteristic of educated native speakers of a language".
That wouldn't be the same Merriam-Webster that defines atheism as "the doctrine that there is no deity", would it? (To be fair they have recently changed that one from "the belief that God does not exist", or words to that effect, but they're still wrong).
Why not look up the definitions of "proper" and "word" to be even surer of ourselves. One's not liking a word, or even being told it shouldn't be used by educated people doesn't make something not a word. Or perhaps educated people shouldn't read John Steinbeck, educated actors shouldn't perform plays by Bertold Brecht or act in films by Disney, and educated musicians shouldn't sing songs by Benjamin Britten or operas by Peter Eotvos, because they contain nonstandard words that the OED and Professor Higgins wouldn't like.
We are now pursuing ourselves in ever diminishing circles.
A dictionary is merely one set of compiler's beliefs against another.
The one which is more often right may be the one that sells the more copies? Who decides what is the true definition and whether a word is standard or not?
Some languages attempt some authoritative control such as the French who (at least in official use) are strongly opposed to terms such as "le weekend" and computer - l'ordinateur, le "Jumbo Jet".
And as James points out, the Germans also tried a simplification and one word quoted (I can't find it at the moment) was a ships captain or some such where there was a succession of ssssss to make the mind fog over(is there a German version of Countdown? is their a German Carol Vordman? how big is a German scrabble board?)
But such attempts fail. We might conclude that in the end it is the people who decide on words and spellings and the dictionaries merely document what is. But of course, there is ample room for debate.
What otherwise is the difference between dictionaries except perhaps that one may be more comprehensive than another or one may choose to include more "non-standard" words or more "patois" regional dialect words, jargon and the like?
I am put in mind of the idea that Mathematics is founded proven concepts or laws and which is where we should expect to see order, where we should expect to see all arguments and proofs built logically and incontrovertibly on smaller proofs and fundamentally, upon the simplest of axioms.
Bertrand Russel: "Russell wanted a theory that could plausibly be said to derive all of mathematics from purely logical axioms. "
Now I could be very wrong here, but it is my understanding that when it came to proving the most fundamental of the mathematical axioms,he encountered a problem. He had to introduce some new axioms, certainly but did he not run into trouble finding proofs for the "axioms". Does not axiomatic mean "taken for granted" or "accepted"?
Russel also gives us the "Cosmic Teapot" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot which one might well take sides on.
According to Wiki this analogy was: "intended to refute the idea that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon the sceptic to disprove unfalsifiable claims of religions.
But does it?
It seems to me that it may not place the burden squarely with either side since it has some commonalities with Schroedinger's Cat.
It is only when we have the ability to detect the teapot that we are able to demonstrate if it exists or not. Until then, all things are possible, nes pas?
Sorry, just a little mental rambling before my coffee. I'll stop before I get in too deep as I am already having trouble breathing under water.
Everybody has some fundamental beliefs or axioms that cannot be proved from more basic concepts. The superiority claimed for atheism is that has fewer axioms than religious systems without (allegedly)explaining fewer things. That this makes it superior is itself an axiom.
Ultimately it's a matter of choosing axioms that seem to make sense of the world and the people in it without appearing to contradict each other.
The reason for using a teapot is that a teapot in orbit around another planet in the solar system is inherently implausible. A claim of an asteroid in orbit still philosophically demands proof, but you aren't going to dismiss the possibility for being ridiculous, and are likely to accept two observations from a halfway-competent astronomer rather than insisting on seeing it yourself.
The ability to detect a god or gods is given, since there are those (essentially all the religious) who claim to have detected the existence of a god. If they have done so they can share their methodology with the rest of us.
Russel's point being that the majority (if not all) god claims, and certainly the ones which we are most familiar with, fall into the same category of inherent implausibility.
And indeed they do this the minute they start fleshing out with burning bushes, virgin births, dictations of holy scripture from archangels and so on. In moving past deism, religion becomes a teapot rather than an asteroid.
The word JMW is looking for is Donaudampfschifffahrtskapitän (Danube steam shipping captain), but you can expand these compound nouns more or less indefinitely:
Danube shipping company paddle steamer captain's quarters' door security key.
I can go one better:
Nail on which is hung the Danube shipping company paddle steamer captain's quarters' door security key.
Hammer for nail on which is hung the Danube shipping company paddle steamer captain's quarters' door security key.
Sadly the board doesn't like German compound nouns. The last 3 should be:
The existence of a god is a claim for something fundamental rather than some detail of everday reality. Such a thing or person is bound, by definition, to be 'extraordinary'. One might as well argue that because the existence of Albert Einstein is fundamentally improbable, he cannot have existed.
I'm not sure I agree with the distinction between fundamental and everyday. But for the sake of argument let's argue that the existence of Albert Einstein is on the face of it as improbable as the existence of, say, the Islamic god (sunni branch). We nevertheless believe in the existence of Albert Einstein because we have good evidence of his existence. Like good scientists we recognise that nothing is incontrovertible, but at the very least it is more likely than not, as we have evidence, such as photographs, interviews, scientific works, payslips, and the testimony of people still alive who met him, that Albert Einstein really did exist. We don't however believe in the existence of the Islamic god (sunni branch) because there is no evidence for it.
Even fundamentally improbable things can exist, and doubtless given the size of the universe quite a lot of them do - the question is whether those defending the claim that such a thing exists are prepared to offer any evidence for their claim.
Indeed there are those who hold the universe is inherently implausible (though no one has bothered to explain how one could know such a thing from a sample of 1, and by definition not being able to know if there is more than one universe), but we observe the universe and know it exists, arguments about its plausibility aside. The theist basically goes on to say "right, now because you believe in one inherently implausible thing you have to believe in all of them, and I've got one here for you, the Rabbi up the road has another one, the Priest over there has another one, etc etc..."