“Dear Abby I” vs. “Dear Abby II”

Hey you, you with the stars in your eyes!

While exploring more of my substantial files on different aspects of the topic of  “Language” (collected over nearly thirty years of teaching at what is now UNC-Pembroke),   I came across a column from the present Dear Abby’s mother,  dated October 28, 1992,  nearly seventeen years ago now.

It is interesting that a columnist like “Dear Abby” or “Ann Landers” or others can gain enough exposure and confidence from their probably millions of readers (compared to my average of, say,  14) that these readers will have confidence that the columnist will understand their dilemma, sympathize with it,  and offer some comforting and maybe even useful advice.

The 1992 column I ran across brought forward “Speechless in Minnesota,”  who had wagered $100 with his/her boss that “irregardless” is a word.  Dear Abby I replies that “irregardless” is a word,  a blend of “irrespective”  and “regardless” and also notes that “it is not used by those who are meticulous about their grammar.”

“Speechless” brings up a second dilemma with the “boss”–he vows that “ain’t” is not a word while “Speechless”  takes the position that people use it and it communicates a meaning and therefore is also a word.

Dear Abby I agrees again, in similar fashion to Dear Abby II’s agreement with “Grammar Grandma from North Carolina,” that “ain’t” is widely used, at least orally,  across the United States and is a contraction of “are not,”  “is not,” and “am not.”  (She probably also should have mentioned “has not” and “have not.”)

And, finally, in similar manner to what I pointed out,  she observes that “for metrical reasons”  that word is fixed firmly in the pattern of a number of popular songs,  such as “It Ain’t Necessarily So,”  “Ain’t She Sweet,”  “The Old Gray Mare, She Ain’t What She Used To Be,”  and “lest we forget,”  “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More, No More,”  and “I Ain’t Got Nobody.”

Feel free to add your own comments.  I go back now to the several comments that some have made in response to my latest challenge to the blog reader on the “Tom Swiftly” level.



13 Responses to ““Dear Abby I” vs. “Dear Abby II””

  1. chitownjoe Says:


  2. Daryl Cobranchi Says:

    It’s quite easy to misunderestimate the wisdom of Dear Abby (I or II).

  3. Tammy Stephens Says:

    “How in the heck, can I wash my neck, if it ain’t gonna rain no more”?

  4. Jeff Thompson Says:

    I’ve always thought irregardless is incorrect…that the word is regardless. But, it’s easy to spurt out irregardless in conversation. However, that doesn’t make it right, or should I say that doesn’t make it correct!!!

  5. Forest Crump Says:

    “…(ain’t) is a contraction of “are not,” “is not,” and “am not.” (She probably also should have mentioned “has not” and “have not.”)

    I didn’t realize how efficient ain’t is.

  6. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Somehow the Angles, Saxons, Romans, Norweigans, Danes, Normans et al didn’t finish the mother tongue. When they didn’t give us a sutable contraction for “am not”, we made us one – “ain’t”. When they didn’t give us a second person, plural personal pronoun distinct and different from the first person, we made us one – “y’all”.

  7. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Scratch “first person”, insert “singular”.

  8. Macky Myers Says:

    If certain words are not “words,” how does one categorize oxymorons? In my opinion, they’re nearly contradictory, but yet they remain in use:

    pretty ugly
    jumbo shrimp
    old news
    original copy
    virtual reality
    act naturally
    sound of silence
    living dead
    rolling stop
    constant variable
    exact estimate
    paid volunteers
    civil war
    only choice
    clever fool

  9. dea Says:

    One of the grammar lessons I learned from reading Dear Abby I while growing up involved the words arguably and inarguably. It irritates me so much when I hear supposedly highly educated people use the words inappropriately.

    If I could argue a point it would be arguable, if not, it’s inarguable. Saying something that is an established fact is arguable is the opposite of what they are trying to say. “The sun is arguably the brightest object in our solar system” is completely wrong, but I had a teacher who insisted that I was wrong when I corrected that phrase on a worksheet in junior high many many years ago.

    However, ain’t and y’all are two words I grew up with and even if every grammar expert in the world were to tell me today that they aren’t real words, I would continue to use them happily, I just don’t use them in term papers.

  10. Raymond Rundus Says:

    Was it a dearth or a plethora of replies to my blog posting that I just now have read?

    And I commend MM for bringing up the topic of oxymorons as perhaps “not really words.” They are, in actuality, phrasal compounds, typically a combination of modifier (adjective) plus noun.

    And some can be characterized as judgmental statements: “Healthy appetite” might be, for some anorexics, oxymoronic.

    And, while we are speaking or thinking about word misusage, check out this sentence from a recent (September 24) article about Fayetteville’s Tim Kennedy, a devoted mixed martial arts fighter.
    Here is the sentence with the questionable usage (under the headline, “Last time we say Kennedy”): “He was pummeling Nick Thompson, submitting his opponent with strikes back in June in Kent, Wash.”
    Besides the misuse of a word, I would also submit (?) that the sentence could be rearranged for better effect and clarity.

    RJR (hope to see you at breakfast Friday morning)

  11. Gregory Phillips Says:

    @Macky: I think handling oxymorons depends on the origin, whether they were created for literary effect or are just examples of incorrect usage.

    pretty ugly: I think “pretty” here is being used to mean “quite.”

    jumbo shrimp: Something that’s at the big end of a small spectrum is still big in relation to its peers.

    old news: Since the intent here is to point out that something isn’t news, it does the job as a rhetorical device.

    original copy: Incorrect usage. Meaningless. Banish it.

    virtual reality: Virtual has come to mean anything created on a computer. But I suppose the original meaning could still apply here in the sense of being something whose existence is inferred from indirect evidence.

    act naturally: To me, this describes the need to make an effort to appear not to be making an effort.

    sound of silence: This is the aural equivalent of total darkness in the visual. It can be heard, even if only as the absence of sound. I think it works.

    living dead: This is an accurate description of zombies, even if they aren’t real.

    rolling stop: It has meaning, even though it contradicts itself.

    constant variable: Incorrect usage.

    exact estimate: Yuk. More incorrect usage.

    paid volunteers: Fail.

    civil war: I always assumed civil in this context was being used as a matter pertaining to the citizenry.

    only choice: More incorrect usage.

    clever fool: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…

  12. mallen2700 Says:

    Dr. Rundus,
    After a lengthy discussion about a work related topic, a co-worker quoted, “well, under the circumcision it is all manure to to me”. For what it is worth.
    a former student

  13. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Too funny!

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