The End Is Nigh: Oxford Exalts Sarah Palin’s Refudiate

By Beth Gerber

November 16, 2010

Remember when Sarah Palin “made up” the word refudiate? Remember how she then claimed her right to do so because, like Shakespeare, she was making celebratory use of a living language? Well, now she might not be so wrong to liken herself to the Bard.

This week The New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD) bestowed upon the misunderstimated word (a Bush II coining) the title of Word of the Year. It’s a sad, sad day when Palinese begins to ingrainiate itself into our language in an indeliblistic manner. (See, I can do it too!)

NOAD’s announcement says:

refudiate: verb used loosely to mean “reject”: she called on them to refudiate the proposal to build a mosque. [origin — blend of refute and repudiate]

An unquestionable buzzword in 2010, the word “refudiate” instantly evokes the name of Sarah Palin, who tweeted her way into a flurry of media activity when she used the word in certain statements posted on Twitter. Critics pounced on Palin, lampooning what they saw as nonsensical vocabulary and speculating on whether she meant “refute” or “repudiate.”

From a strictly lexical interpretation of the different contexts in which Palin has used “refudiate,” we have concluded that neither “refute” nor “repudiate” seems consistently precise, and that “refudiate” more or less stands on its own, suggesting a general sense of “reject.”

Although Palin is likely to be forever branded with the coinage of “refudiate,” she is by no means the first person to speak or write it—just as Warren G. Harding was not the first to use the word normalcy when he ran his 1920 presidential campaign under the slogan “A return to normalcy.” But Harding was a political celebrity, as Palin is now, and his critics spared no ridicule for his supposedly ignorant mangling of the correct word “normality.”

Of course, this does not mean refudiate has been added to the New Oxford American Dictionary or even the OED. But it did win best new word of the year. Which, I fear, will only encourage Palin, Bush, and all the rest of the language bunglers. Sorry, I guess I should call them wordsmitheristas.

Runner-up words under consideration for the NOAD’s Word of the Year included: bankster, crowdsourcing, double-dip, gleek, nom nom, retweet, Tea Party, top kill, vuvuzela, and webisode. It pains me to say it, but vuvuzela would’ve been my choice. As annoying as it was, the sound of that damn horn permeated the global cultural stage for months. An otherwise unknown word suddenly became all too well-known.

P.S. I would also like to point out that “refudiate” still shows up with a red underscore each time I type it. Apparently it will take some time for my spellcheck (presumably controlled by the Liberal media) to sync up with the NOAD’s press release.

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