“Drawing on my fine command of the English language I said nothing.” — Robert Benchley

What did you do the last time you heard someone use a word incorrectly, or even worse, use a word that you were pretty sure wasn’t even an actual word? If you’re anything like me (and I imagine that you are because you’re reading this), you did a quick calculation on the merits of correcting that person versus the value of keeping a friend and decided to follow the lead of the witty and wise Mr. Benchley.

But guess what, by remaining silent you might actually be accomplishing something besides keeping that person’s friendship; you might also be keeping that person from proving that you’re the one who’s wrong.

Yup, even though we’re word wonks (you’re with me, right?), the people at Merriam-Webster are bigger wonks (that’s a compliment) and to prove it they’ve put together a piece called “Funner, Stupider and Other Words That Are in Fact Real,” in their “Words at Play” section online. Let’s get right to it.

First up is the “Funner & Funnest” entry, words that the dictionary defines as “more (or most) amusing or enjoyable.” When the use of the word “fun” went from being used as a noun and a verb (yes, you could “fun” or “trick” someone back in the day) to also being used as an adjective, that made it eligible for the “er” and “est” endings. (Though some people argue that “fun” shouldn’t be in the dictionary as an adjective, it’s important to remember that the book’s job is to define the way we currently use words, not to tell us how we should use them.)

Up next is “stupider” (slower of mind, less intelligent), which, of course, means the same thing as “more stupid,” and earns its suffix because, according to the lexicographers, it’s allowable on a few two-syllable adjectives that end in a consonant. (For the record, “stupid” is “positive,” stupider” is “comparative” and “stupidest” is “superlative.”)


If you cringe every time you hear someone say “irregardless” (nonstandard form of “regardless”), I’m sorry to have to tell you that it too is a real word. Why? The folks at Merriam-Webster explain that if a word is used long enough by enough people to mean a specific thing then (like it or not) it becomes a word.

Faring even worse than the nonstandard “irregardless” is the “substandard” word “worser” (substandard comparative of “bad” or “ill”). Though it’s looked down upon by most people, it is a real word and has been around since the end of the 15th century.

I suppose one way of making “worser” feel better (betterer?) about being labeled substandard is to introduce it to “anyways,” whose definitions of “anyhow” and “anyway” the dictionary people call “chiefly dialect.” After that beatdown, they hasten to point out that just because a word variant is used in a particular region, that doesn’t make it “any less real.”

The gloves come off when the Merriam-Webster crew takes on the gang at Urban Dictionary, who contend that “strategize” (to devise a strategy or course of action) is a non-word. To make their case, the M-W pundits point to the word’s use way back in 1832. Besides, if the “Saturday Night Live” word “strategery” (coined for a 2000 send-up of George W. Bush) is a real word, then “strategize” certainly has to be.

“Legit” (slang term for “legitimate”) is dismissed by many even though it’s been around since the middle of the last century. Shortened words such as “phone” and “taxi” (a shortening of “taximeter”), the Merriam-Webster editors point out, are universally accepted, so why not “legit?” Personally, I’ve considered it a word ever since MC Hammer proclaimed himself “2 legit 2 quit.”

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at jlwitherell19@gmail.com.

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