Mighty Red Pen

July 19, 2010

Gov. Strangeword, or How I learned to stop worrying and love Sarah Palin

Filed under: Word wars,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:25 pm
Tags: , ,

Okay, okay, I’m not loving Sarah Palin. But I am finding myself in the strange position of kinda, sorta agreeing with her.

By now, you may have heard how the Interwebs are all in a twist over refudiate, the word Palin apparently made up in a recent tweet: “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”

Because Palin’s someone lots of people love to hate, there’s a bit of gleeful jeering over her verbal misstep (which has since been deleted). But I have to say, she raises an interesting point with her follow-up tweet: “‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”

Okay, I get it. Her seeming to compare herself to Shakespeare is just more grist for the anti-Palin mill. But here’s where I kinda, sorta agree with her: English is a living language. And one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is: one person’s malapropism can apparently be another person’s neologism. And vice versa. Right?

Anyway, this conundrum brings to mind a couple of recent good pieces:

  • Stan Carey at Sentence First, with the smart post, “Not a Word is Not an Argument.” He writes, “If you see or hear someone reject a word by saying it’s ‘not a word’, you can reasonably assume that they mean it’s not a word they like, not a word they would use, not a word in standard usage, not a word in a certain dictionary, not a suitable word for the context, and so on. There’s a difference, and it matters.”
  • Jan Freeman, of the Boston Globe and Throw Grammar from the Train, touched on related issues in her column this weekend with a brief round up about how any public figure (from Bush I to Bush II to Obama) can be made to sound like a language moron, depending on the analysis. “Whatever your political allegiance,” she writes, “when you hear this kind of ‘language analysis,’ your fact-checking antennae should be twitching.”

I’m not saying we’ll be seeing refudiate in the dictionary anytime soon. But I also don’t see it as evidence that we avoided a near-catastrophe by not voting the McCain/Palin ticket into the White House. As a word (or as a non-word), refudiate seems to have some solid roots in actual words, such as refute and repudiate. And as a word nerd, I know we love ourselves some good neologisms, mondegreens, and portmanteaux. So what do you think: has Sarah Palin made Mrs. Malaprop proud or is this just the beginning for refudiate?


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