03 December 2010

I Refudiate the Use of This Word

A couple weeks back, the New Oxford American Dictionary released their words for 2010. Various dictionaries, worldwide, release words every year that came to prominence. The fact a word makes it on the list means nothing in regard to usefulness, longevity, newness or even correctness. The criterion that most matters, in the words of NOAD's Ammon Shea, is whether a word 'has attracted a great deal of new interest' that calendar year.

The word NOAD picked as this year's top word was 'refudiate.'

Thank you, Sarah Palin.

It started when she used it on a cable news show, asking Michelle Obama to 'refudiate' that the Tea Party movement is racist. That same weekend, she tweeted the following:
'Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.'
I've already touched on the use of the moniker 'Ground Zero mosque' in another post, so i don't feel the need to say anything more on that subject.

She didn't initially mean to use the word. Her original tweet was taken down and replaced with
'Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real.'

*emphasis mine
. She originally acknowledged that her use was wrong. Then, as politicians tend to do, she stood her ground that English is alive and ever-changing.
' "Refudiate," "misunderestimate," "wee-wee'd up." English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!'

I agree. English is alive, fluid and changing, and nothing can stop that. It's a natural evolution to any language that is only prevented once the language dies, as it has with Latin.

She also grouped herself with Shakespeare, the originator of over 1,000 new words to the English language. Not to belittle Sarah Palin any, but the words he coined--the likes of 'eyeball', 'apostrophe,' and 'obscene'--he truly invented, purposefully. Palin did not.

Refudiate is by no means a new word. The New Oxford American Dictionary blog lists the first recorded use in a Texas newspaper in the late 1800s. It is also mentioned in a headline in the 1920s, and, more recently, by a senator in 2006. What brings Palin's use to prominence in both her personality, as well as her continued insistence upon using the word.

I take issue with her use of both the 'living language' argument as well as the 'Shakespeare: word maker' argument. If she had intended to use 'refudiate' from the beginning, that pairing would make sense. However, she did not.

Given that her impact on American society has been so prevalent, regardless that she's only been in the spotlight for 3 years, it amazes me she can have such an impact, even accidentally, as to make a misspoken word a national news story.

No comments:

Post a Comment