Non-Fiction: “The Story of Ain’t” by David Skinner

Has everybody heard the story about how Brad and I have fought, off and on, for five years, about the status of ‘irregardless’ as a possible word? No? Okay, in brief:

I fought vociferously that ‘irregardless’ is not a word. Brad maintained that it is a word. I said, again, that it was not. Brad threw a dictionary at me. IN HIS DEFENSE, it was a paperback pocket dictionary, and I caught it. It’s not like he threw a fifteen-pound book at my head. Anyway, he threw it at me because he said that since ‘irregardless’ was in the dictionary, that made it a word. I said that okay, sure, it was in the dictionary, big deal, but it stated that it was non-standard usage, which meant that it shouldn’t be used, therefore, it shouldn’t be a word, so DON’T FUCKING SAY IRREGARDLESS EVERYONE.

That would be our routine whenever anyone said ‘irregardless’ around the both of us. Jean especially thought it was hilarious, and would say it on purpose just to rile me. Because — God love him — he’s kind of a dick. 

Four weeks ago I went to the library because I was bored with my book selection at home. Ten boxes full of books I moved, and I didn’t want to read a single one. Anyway. At the library, on the ‘notable’ shelf, was something called The Story of Ain’t, which proclaimed itself to describe “America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published.” And because I’m a freak for grammar (oh yeah, I’m thatkind of freaky freak … freak!), I picked it up and then it took me four weeks to read it because as it turns out, it wasn’t that interesting, anyway.(A book about a dictionary. I thought a book about a dictionary would be interesting. Goddamn, I’m a moron sometimes.)

HOWEVER. There was an important passage that I need to make note of:

And whatever ain’t was — substandard or nonstandard — it was not standard. It was not “good.” This did not mean that ain’t was not a word, only that it was out of favor in standard English. [85] [my emphasis]

Dear Friends With Whom I Once Worked:

Odds are at least one of you guys reads this. Maybe not every time I post a review, and that’s totally okay. But I’m guessing that one of you will eventually see this entry, and I need one of you to do me a solid.

Could you print this entry out for Brad? Because I’m still not convinced he actually has internet, and I know he doesn’t read this blog on a regular basis [which is TOTALLY okay; I do not need him asking me why I thought Prelude to a Scandal was both hilarious and horrifying]. But he’s going to want to read this for the next few paragraphs alone.

Okay. Have you printed out a copy of this entry?
playbook jpg


Dear Brad:

You were right, and I was wrong. ‘Irregardless’ is a word, because it is found in the dictionary. Being designated as ‘nonstandard usage’ does not mean that it is not a word. As that was your central argument for the past five years, I must concede my point to yours, the superior, for in this instance, you were right, and I was wrong.

I figured you would like a printed-out version of this, because, as stated above, you don’t read this on the interwebs. Also, I expect you’d like to frame it, so you can always point to it and tell people that I was wrong about something and you were right about it. I fully expect you to break into your “I Told You So” dance when next I see you.

(And to be honest: who knows when this will happen again? Us fighting about something, I mean. Ten years and the only other big fight we’ve had has been about the fact that Droopy is a cartoon dog and not a figment of my imagination. [I was so right about that.])

Please don’t think I’m being facetious. Never again will I proclaim that ‘irregardless’ is not a word. Instead, I will yell at the top of my lungs “IRREGARDLESS IS NONSTANDARD USAGE.” So. Be ready for that.



Okay. Now that that’s out of the way…

In the end, I did not like the book. And no, it wasn’t because I lost the fight. It’s because it took me four fucking weeks to read 300 pages. It took me the same amount of time to read Great Expectations, and that book had longer sentences, more characters (though not by much), and much more difficult concepts to understand.

Mr. Skinner attempts to introduce all the characters who were somehow involved with the creation and editing of Webster’s Third International Dictionary, but in the end, they’re all very well-educated, old white guys, and I can’t tell them apart. Oh, this person was the head of the linguistics department at Harvard. This person headed up the College of Letters at the University of Chicago. And that person was another big muckety-muck about words and language and stuff. Whatever. Mr. Skinner does provide a biographical glossary in the back of the book, but — I’m lazy. When I read a book, flipping to the back to remind me of who that is is not the best use of my time.

And the way he starts chapters — it almost seems as if … hm. How do I explain it? You know how textbooks begin chapters? Where there’s a random anecdote, and then that ties into the main point of the chapter, with the vocabulary supporting the thesis. It honestly felt like I was reading a textbook. And I’ve been out of school for almost two years. But anyway. The chapters didn’t feel as if they went together. The whole feel of the book was very disjointed, and I did not enjoy that at all.

I feel that I was promised a fun romp through literary history: the making of a dictionary that legitimized such words as ‘ain’t’ and ‘irregardless,’ and the men that made those decisions. Instead, I get some backstory on some dude who didn’t even edit the dictionary, only lambasted it in his own magazine, and a lot of little stories about people involved, but no funny anecdotes about that one jackass that tried to sneak in their own definition for something. Because you know there was a jackass on the team, and he was always trying to sneak in their own definitions for things. Like, putting in Einstein’s definition for insanity. Or … dammit, I can’t think of anything else, because HOLY SHIT it’s 4 AM?! WHY ARE YOU STILL AWAKE, ALAINA?

You know what needs to happen next, though? The Oxford English Dictionary needs to recognize Cromulent as a real word. Please, dictionary people? I’ve been ever so good.

Grade for The Story of Ain’t: No stars.


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