In defense of ‘alright’

In a previous column, I wrote about how “alright” isn’t “all right.” Today, I thought we could visit some counterarguments. This is going to be fun.

First, we’ll look at the history of “alright.” Our friend Merriam-Webster says it’s been around for a while. Dating its first known use to 1887, Webster says, “The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users.” Webster goes on to say that despite its detractors, “alright” is frequently used in journalistic and fictional writing. (Note here: AP style says never to use “alright.”)

How about the Oxford English Dictionary? You might be surprised to find the esteemed publication is even more lenient toward “alright.” The dictionary notes, “Similar ‘merged’ words such as altogether and already have been accepted in Standard English for a very long time, so there is no logical reason to object to the one-word form alright.”

That’s an interesting argument – though one might counter it by pointing out that “all ready” and “already” have two distinct meanings. Can the same be said for “all right” and

“alright?”

“All ready” means exactly what you would expect: wholly equipped or prepared. “Already,” on the other hand, is an adverb which signifies an action occurred “by or before a stated or implied time.”

Now, do “all right” and “alright” have distinct meanings? Based upon examples I’ve found, and my own sense of how I would use it colloquially, I would have to say no. “All right” seems to be used in a literal sense – everything is completely fine – and “alright” seems to have developed as the more figurative form – everything is OK, but not great.

I’ll finish today by saying I’m partial to “alright” when used colloquially. I think American speakers intuitively understand the difference between something being “all right” and being just “alright.” That being said, I’m not sure “alright” passes muster to be used in formal writing … which is too bad, because it’s really an all right word.