It’s Not Alright with Me…But Maybe It Should Be

You can understand why the average English speaker might not know that “all right” is supposed to be two words.  After all, the spelling “alright” is ubiquitous. It follows the same pattern as “already” and “altogether.” But usage experts still claim that it’s substandard.

I use “all right” exclusively, because I know what the experts say. Yet I question their wisdom. There’s more going on here than just spelling. “Alright” is an idiomatic expression. It doesn’t mean that all is right. Consider the following sentences:

This Wikipedia article is all wrong.

This Wikipedia article is all right.

This Wikipedia article is alright.

The first and second sentences seem to function as opposites of one another, while the third lies in between. If you wanted to rigorously follow usage rules, yet still avoid any chance of misunderstanding, you’d have to rewrite the last two sentences:

This Wikipedia article is correct.

This Wikipedia article is OK.

What’s the point of even having a word if you can’t use it?

The acceptance of a different spelling to accompany the different meaning strikes me as logical and useful, and the prohibition against it as pedantic and ultimately indefensible. The old spelling has nothing but history in its favor. Furthermore, the original spelling hasn’t got that much of a historical advantage. According to Fowler’s Modern English Usage, the idiom is first recorded in 1837, and the variant spelling in 1893. That’s a mere 56 years to evolve from two words to one—a long time by today’s standards, but back then, they mailed letters and read newspapers. Written language flowed at a slower pace.

So if you’re counting votes, put me down for “alright.” Even if I’m too much of a coward to use it.

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2 thoughts on “It’s Not Alright with Me…But Maybe It Should Be

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