“Alright” is not all right with me

Recently, I found myself struggling with mixed feelings toward a very popular book. People had been trying to get me to read this particular book for years, ever since the movie version of it was in theaters, and I had refused for reasons that won’t come into play here. Finally, I had the chance to buy a copy for a dollar at a charity sale, and I jumped on it. Curiosity had finally gotten the better of me.

I had just begun my skeptical read of this very popular book when I encountered the first “alright.”

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m a word snob. I don’t think I’ve been shy about it. I still didn’t want to face the reality that I’m one of those people who would stop reading a book altogether at the first sign of questionable editing. But the appearance of “alright” (I will not call it a word) brought me up short.

What was it doing here? How was it left behind after repeated rounds of editing should have steam-cleaned it into oblivion? This part of the book was in first person. Maybe this was the way that person spoke. There was no true dialect here to speak of, but the regional speech patterns were clear nonetheless.

Ultimately, I decided not to stop reading. Hope that this was the only “alright” in the book, or one of a handful, kept me going. And I did finish the book. But each “alright” set my teeth on edge.

I believe the prevailing wisdom is still that “alright” is not a word. This is certainly my belief. Even among those who believe it’s all right to use “alright,” the reasoning is that lots of people are using “alright” and that the language should evolve to include it as a result. Microsoft seems to subscribe to this view. As I write this, I’m noticing that Word does not believe “alright” is misspelled.

I still don’t think “alright” is a word, and the argument that we should all accept it as a word because “everyone’s doing it” is disturbing. I don’t have a specific process in mind for bringing new words into the language, but I think we have to do better than that. There’s a fine line between popular use of slang and telling “everyone” that they don’t have to learn the language as it now exists because the rest of us will accept whatever they decide to do with it.

Call it a linguistic version of stare decisis. I don’t mind change. I just need to see a good reason for it.

What did I think of that book? I can’t complain too much; I did finish it over the course of a single weekend. It’s left me with the lasting impression that the author is convinced that her characters didn’t and couldn’t know that “alright” isn’t a word, and that the editorial staff bought that conviction. That still bothers me.

The road from “alright” to “thru,” and from there to “YOLO,” is a short and slippery one. I prefer to avoid it altogether.


**Freelance editor Lexi Walker will be posting on issues of grammar, usage, and style twice monthly. She knows that her firm approach to editing stings a little but prefers to think that the momentary discomfort means the process is working.


4 thoughts on ““Alright” is not all right with me

  • Hi Lexi! GREAT POST! I’m so glad I’m not the only one suffering from the twitches when assaulted by “alright” in a manuscript or book. And the comment about the evolution of the English language is worthwhile for some things, but not when said evolutionary step is just a way to excuse laziness. There should be standards, a thin line drawn in the sand, a warning klaxon when someone tries to pull that card. Kind of the “if your friend jumped off a bridge, it’s okay for you to jump too?” query. Thanks again for another thoughtful and insightful post.

    • I almost used that line about everyone jumping off a bridge for the title of this post. 🙂

      There should definitely be something between “everybody’s doing it” and actual admission to the language. Sometimes I daydream about being part of the editorial committee that updates the Oxford English Dictionary. Alas, law school may have prevented that dream from becoming reality, but I can still think about it.

    • When I saw the first “alright,” the first thing I did was thumb ahead a few pages to see if there were more. When I found that there were more, I really did have to think about what to do next. Should I finish? Was I overreacting? Did no one see this? It took a very long time for me to decide to finish.

      I’m reassured not to be alone here.

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