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Dance Moms

November 25, 2016

There’s an American TV programme called Dance Moms that my daughter Ros likes. I don’t really like it myself – well, it’s not my favourite programme – but I have sort of looked at it from time to time when she’s been watching it. It’s about this dance class run by a rather forceful character called Abby Lee, and these moms take their daughters there and they’re entered in competitions, and there are all sort of rivalries and tensions and conflicts and resentments bubbling away. Actually it’s quite interesting, really… Anyway, the point is that these dance moms habitually use two expressions that set my teeth on edge. One is irregardless, which simply means regardless. What’s that ir- doing? It’s a negative prefix for words beginning with r, as in irrespective, irresponsible or irregular. So irregardless ought to mean the opposite of regardless. It’s a double negative. But whereas double negatives normally sound informal, indeed slangy, and for that reason can sound quite funny in formal contexts, irregardless doesn’t sound informal at all; it sounds as if the speaker is trying to impress with a long word. That’s what annoys me.

The other one is could care less, used to mean couldn’t care less. What’s the point of that one? If someone could care less then they do care, at least to a degree. But that’s not what the speaker means. I know that Stephen Pinker has defended this usage, on the grounds that it’s supposed to be ironic:“I could care less” implying “(but only just)”. But these dance moms don’t use it ironically. They don’t adopt an ironic tone when saying it. Indeed they often use it in the third person – “And Abby could care less!” – so it’s a bit unclear how irony would work there (they’re being ironic on Abby’s behalf?).

Maybe I should just stop watching it. Still, it’s quite an interesting programme…

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2 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    According to the OED irregardless first appeared in an American dictionary in 1912 as a probable blending of regardless and irrespective so it’s been around for a while.
    An American expression that catches me is when they say bring instead of take ” if you go (to) see Fred bring him some books”. Another is the pronunciation of khaki as “cackee”.
    Bill Bryson wrote a book called Made in America about American speech and the differences with Britain which is very interesting.

  2. Hi Simon. Thanks for the info about the genealogy of ‘irregardless’. As for ‘bring’ used in the sense of ‘take’, I’m pretty sure that comes from Irish English, so one would hear it in regions of America where there was a lot of Irish immigration. Don’t know the Bryson book but I’ll look out for it.

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