New Column | Speaking of Which by Vidya Heble

31 Aug,2012

Being a deskie is not easy. There are very few pieces of copy that require no work or come with no errors. But ask any sub and he or she will tell you that it’s not the mistakes that are a pain. It’s the incorrect usage that bothers them no end. Some of these are no-brainers, but there are many which even the best editor would need to labour over.


Starting today (Aug 31), MxMIndia brings you a new fortnightly series titled ‘Speaking of which’ that (or should we say ‘which’?) will, among other things, talk of common errors people in our media make, and how good usage can make for better communication. Written by Vidya Heble, Deputy Editor, MxMIndia and Managing Editor, The Blue Pencil Company, a content editing and writing start-up. Vidya has over two decades of experience in advertising, print and online media… in India, the Gulf and Singapore. She has also edited books, written speeches and communiques and recently took a sabbatical to set up and execute the online avatar of a popular show. Enjoy!


The ironic ally

Vidya Heble

Twice in the same week recently, I’ve come across the word “ironical”. It’s almost without thinking that I changed it to “ironic” (because “ironical” is not a word), but the second encounter did make me wonder why people are starting to do this. Ironic is a fine word on its own. Why add -al to it?


The answer, unfortunately, is the all-too-common one: To sound smarter. Who knows, given the general level of knowledge, it may work. Or perhaps the -al-wielders just copy a word they’ve seen elsewhere, without knowing quite what it means and not being bothered to look it up (to digress, it pains me that the more tools there are for looking up stuff, and the easier those tools are to access – viz, smartphones and a dictionary/thesaurus at your fingertips – the less people seem to think they need to actually use those tools) and thinking that because it looks impressive, it must be so.


And the wrong gets perpetuated.


I can hear mutterings of “but ironical is not wrong”. Sorry to bust your bubble, Bubba, but it is. -al is a suffix used to turn some nouns into adjectives, as in logic >> logical. Ironic is already an adjective, and therefore should not have -al tacked onto it.


Update: MxM India received a few calls to say that “ironical” is indeed a word. Well, the fact is that it has been created, and does not mean anything different from “ironic”. As says, “Because the suffix conventions in English are inconsistent, ironical will probably continue to appear. Because there are no simple, consistent rules for these suffixes, and because spell-check approves of ironical, the word will continue to appear. And perhaps someday it will find a meaning of its own.”


Meanwhile, Thomas McAllister on his English Usage blog decides to ignore “ironical” altogether: “I plan to stick with ‘ironic’, if for no better reason than not to be laughed off the block.”


If it helps, the Merriam-Webster dictionary has no entry for “ironical”. If you insist on using it, for whatever reason, remember that it is a redundancy. You may or may not get points, but you may also lose out for trying to make your writing look fancy.


Tip: An easy way to remember – would you say “sarcastical”?

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3 responses to “New Column | Speaking of Which by Vidya Heble”

  1. Meeta says:

    I agree Vidya. Ironical is not a word…

  2. Faheem Ruhani says:

    Interesting piece! it is frustrating when there are people (read writers) in office who don’t know English. A senior journalist friend of mine showed me a copy by his team member where before adding a comma, the writer would add space before it.

    I had somebody in a publication where a youngster was employed by the proprietors simply because he came at a salary of Rs 10K. That he didn’t English was bad enough. He would coin new words which did not exist. One while describing an interviewee’s copy which was spicy, he said. the interview is very peppery. The copy would be laced with such gems throughout.

  3. Tara says:

    Vidyaaa. You should write about reiterate. The prefix re- is also redundant but it seems to have found it’s way in a lot of people’s vocabulary.