October 1, 2021

Ralph's Usage Guide: All Right vs. Alright

— All Write ‘Alright’ All Right? —

In the spring of 1817, a student at Oxford University began what has now been two centuries of stormy and sometimes bloody controversy when he wrote the phrase “Alright now” on a test paper.* The quarrel, of course, is over the one-word form (alright) of all right, which the majority of authorities say is not at all right or at all all right, all right?

The anti-alright camp point out that there is no need for a one-word form. The pro-alright camp reply that there is too. The anti’s say, “There is not,” and the pro’s say, “There is, too!” Inevitably, they become too loud and the police are called in. An officer pounds on the door and says, in a heavy Irish accent, “Alright, open this door!”—to which they all fall silent and, yes, ask, “Would that be all right spelled as one word or two?” 

Police officers, who find it helpful to sound tough and who think it sounds tough to sound uneducated (which is usually true), answer that it is all right as one word. This invariably upsets the general public and gets the police chief fired for bad spelling on the force (a great plot for a "Hawaii Five-0" episode). 

As a result, in many municipalities, it is now illegal to say all right in any form. You are supposed to say OK instead (which unfortunately has already led to the tragic Gunfight at the OK Corral, between the OK camp, the O.K. camp, the Okay camp, the okie dokie camp, and the people of the State of Oklahoma, who claimed exclusive rights to all forms of the abbreviation).

The trouble that the alright dispute has caused over time is made all the more tragic in that the original Oxford student who tried to spell it as one word was actually trying to spell not “all right now” but “all write now,” a command in the imperative. (It was spring, after all, and students tend to blunder a lot in spring.)

Had the student’s professors known of this blunder, they would have simply taken the kid out back and shot him. But they discovered it too late. Blood had already been shed; newspaper copy editors and English teachers were already doomed to an eternity of “Is too!” “Is not!” 

And if the professors had tried to spare the world and tell the truth, Oxford would have lost its standing as the center of learning in the English-speaking world, and so the professors kept quiet. (They did, all the same, take the student out back and shoot him.)

OLL KORRECT: “OK, turn right here and left there.” “Left there?” “Right.” “Oh, all right. I get it.” “No, left!” “All right and, no, left. Right.” “Left!!!”

ALL RIGHT: After they all write all right as alright, the teacher makes them all write all right so that all the alls and all the rights were all right.

ALL WRONG: After they alright alright as alright . . .

ALRIGHT!: I got a new laptop.

ALL WIGHT: Alwight, silly wabbit, hands up!

ALL RIGHT: A bunch of Republicans.

ALL LEFT: Ralph’s attempt to make beef stew. Do not buy his forthcoming cookbook.

(C) 2021 by Targets in English. All rights reserved.

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