The question is, why do so many people write alright when every English dictionary and style guide say that the only correct spelling for this word is all right? As of this writing, alright occurs 76,400,000 times on Web pages. I know exactly what we need: one more voice in the fray.
At the outset, let me say that my reason for doing this is that none of the dictionaries and style guides I can find give a reason for spelling this lexical item as two words. To be consistent, I will apply the same test that I have applied to all the other issues I’ve weighed in on, e.g. “a historical“, “ain’t“, and ending a sentence with a preposition—consistency of usage. (My say on split infinitives is in the offing)
Alright is as much of a word as already, also and although, adverbs of identical origin: all plus an adverb. My position has always (another one) been that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are not suitable terms for settling issues of grammar; instead, we should try to write and speak consistently.
After all, that is what grammar is, a catalog of rules on how to organize language and a rule (from Latin regula, from which we obtained regularity) is an expression of a consistency. To write already, also, always, although as single words, and spell alright as two, would be inconsistent, a rule breaker.
I have another reason though. Alright is used today to mean “OK”, not “all is right”. The haggis is alright = The haggis is OK, not that everything is right with it. “OK” is an expression of mediocrity; “all right” suggests perfection.
We wouldn’t say, “Is alright” any more than we would say “Is OK?” “Is all right?” is a perfectly good question but it implies perfection: everything is right. If we didn’t recognize this distinction, this old joke wouldn’t work: “Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He’s all right now.”
In A Hard Day’s Night the Beatles sing, “But when I get home to you/ I find the things that you do/ Will make me feel alright.” Doesn’t this strike you a bit odd, John Lennon comes home to someone who only makes him feel OK? Here the phrase all right makes more sense.
Language changes. New words come into language from the outside and new words are created inside language itself. The two words all and right have been combined to form a new word whose meaning, as the meaning of new words is wont to do, drifted off on its own.
A woolly bear is not a bear, a ladyfinger is not a finger, and a ladybird is not a bird, as we have noted previously in this blog. By the same token, alright is not the same as all right. Alright is one word with one meaning, so it is much more consistent to spell it as one word than spelling it as two.
Conclusion: it is alright to spell alright alright so long as you mean “OK”.