I’m Alright, Jack

Alright, it’s time for some more fun with words. Specifically, that one—alright, a word that sets some people’s teeth on edge. Which is why I don’t use it much any more: I use all right for the same reason I avoid split infinitives in formal writing—because alright and split infinitives annoy some people, not because they annoy me.

“Alright,” he insisted, “let’s start.
Now, those who despise it, take heart:
We’re taking this word,
Alright, as you’ve heard,
And tearing it all right apart.”

Hanging out on a website for word-lovers, you inevitably run into people who loathe alright, and I ran into one such today. I won’t name her, because she’s uncannily close to me in most of her attitudes towards usage and grammar, which makes her a fine and upstanding human being. (Also, she uses a pseudonym and I don’t know her real name.) But it was because we agree on so much that I felt free to give her alrightophobia a tweak:

OED has an 1893 listing for alright, which makes the word older than just about everyone who’s ever lived. Time to let go, sez I. There are plenty of times when we don’t want to say that things are all right or all right, but just alright, already. Even if we aren’t all ready.

Undeniable logic, you might say, or at least a nifty bit of wordplay, and if you did I would think you were alright. But my colleague pointed to a passionate condemnation on another page, where she’d said that the essence of her loathing was that

alright = all + right
already ≠ all + ready

In other words, alright does nothing that all right doesn’t.

I responded:

Y’see, I’d say

already ≠ all + ready
alright ≠ all + right

alright = adequate, as in “It was alright—nothing special.” Substitute all right and that doesn’t make sense. If it was all right—all of it, and as right as could be—why isn’t it special?

alright = yes, as in “We’re done now, alright?” Making a direct equivalent of everything correct stand in for yes is a stretch, but alright is something different.


alright = okay

in its many forms. It’s a British version of that most American of words. So it’s alright by me.

She then took the perfectly reasonable position that this was her pet loathing and she was sticking with it. But I couldn’t resist one last observation—and once I’d made it, couldn’t resist repackaging it here rather than letting it languish in an OEDILF workshop:

The thing I find amusing about the all right vs alright debate is that the obstinate defence of all right by a century of language mavens has given it a stuffy, persnickety air completely at odds with the spirit of the phrase, its laid-back okay-ness. Saying that alright is unacceptably casual is effectively saying it’s more casual than all right, and thus more suitable for describing the casual attitude inherent in the term. The more people fight alright, the more its victory is assured. The irony is delicious.

She had to laugh, even if she still didn’t think it was all right.

27 September 2006 · Whatever

Oh, how can I not comment? :)

I think the only argument I've got left, apart from obstinacy, is that "all right" -- that is, "all + right" -- also means "okay". It's idiomatic, sure, but it's one of the meanings of that phrase. Why oh why do we have to drop the space and an L? (Yes, I know why. Language changes. It's great. But not this one change!)

Thanks for making me laugh at myself. It's a healthy thing to do, I reckon.

Added by waterrocks on 28 September 2006.

Only tangentially on topic, but I am amused by my generational cohorts who get bent out of shape at the younger generation's use of "it's all good". "It is not all good!" my compatriots huff -- every one of whom uses "all right" with no self-consciousness whatever.

Added by scraps on 28 September 2006.

I don't know if you were thinking of this, Rory, but there's a deliciousness about concluding with

alright = okay

since, as far as the most convincingly documented etymological analysis has concluded, "okay"/O.K. comes from a 19th-century fad for in-joke acronyms in newspapers, which (in the most involved aspect of the trend) involved deliberate misspellings (i.e. "K.Y." for "Know Yuse"). One of the neologisms that stuck was "O.K." for "oll korrect"

-- as in, of course, all right.

Added by BT on 28 September 2006.

(Hey, comments! How come I didn’t get the emails from the server?)

I admit to being amused by “it’s all good” the first time I heard it, but only because it was new (i.e., not 113 years old). That was on a visit to Oz last November. Hadn’t realised it was a U.S. thing--I thought it was just those crazy Aussie kids.

You realise too, Bill, that there are those who insist that “okay” is less okay than “O.K.”, for reasons too ironic to mention.

In my research on “alright” I found that American authorities are generally more agin it than U.K. ones nowadays, Fowler being long gone.

Added by Rory on 28 September 2006.

On the OK/okay thing -- yeah, that particular pedantic dog won't hunt. How anyone can parse the relative okay-ness of the two terms is beyond me.

On "It's all good" -- I'd make the cautious case that the objections are more temperamental/cultural than they are about correctness. The expression itself, like "whatever," or "s'up!" conveys a kind of packaged cool. In this case, it's the kind of cool associated with slacker/stoner culture, and its purpose is to dismiss the full range of emotion -- including annoyance, outrage, etc. -- in favor of a blandly authoritative positivity. It's a greeting-card sentiment for the extreme-sports age. And even those of us who aren't two-bit language pedants (guilty, your honor) have every right to hold it in despite -- even if we're weak enough to occasionally employ it ourselves.

Added by BT on 28 September 2006.

To join the fray: something I keep hearing remonstrance against is this little exchange:

"Can I get you a drink/anything?"
"I'm all right, thanks."

Which I can't really defend, logically, but keep hearing myself saying nonetheless. Why does "I'm all right" equate to "I'm not thirsty"? Just one of those mysteries.

I would always type it as two words, although (there's no such construction as "all though", is there?) The other spelling, to me, looks phonetically weird, as though the "al" should be pronounced as in "Albert".

I'd never say "it's all good", but my younger siblings do - somewhat self-mockingly, I think. (My brother also frequently greets people with "Yo!")

Added by K on 2 October 2006.

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