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
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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?


July 28, 2009

And the beat goes on

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:06 pm
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Earlier this week on the Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien and William Shatner reimagined Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s farewell speech as a spoken word poem.


Update: Hat tip to @Fritinancy for directing our attention to “The Gettysburg Address, by Sarah Palin” at Coyote Crossing.

July 21, 2009

Wherein we resign ourselves

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Pop culture — mighty red pen @ 6:19 pm
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Evidently, they have some time on their hands over at Vanity Fair where, just for laughs, they asked their executive literary editor to lead a team in copy editing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s recent resignation speech. The copy editor in you will both laugh and cry at all the red ink. Here’s a sample:

Sarah Palin transcript2

For more, check out the rest of “Palin’s Resignation: The Edited Version.”

Hat tip to Gopher.

October 2, 2008


Well, if you’re a word nerd watching the Sarah Palin-Joe Biden vice presidential debate tonight, and you eschew the usual debate drinking games, here’s something that might amuse you: diagram Sarah Palin’s sentences.

Hat tip to Helen’s Dad, who alerted me to “Diagramming Sarah: Can Palin’s Sentences Stand Up to a Grammarian?” by Kitty Burns Florey. Florey writes:

No one but a Republican denial specialist could argue with the fact that Sarah Palin’s recent TV appearances have scaled the heights of inanity. The sentences she uttered in interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and Katie Couric seem to twitter all over the place like mourning doves frightened at the feeder. Which left me wondering: What can we learn from diagramming them?

It’s worth checking out Florey’s piece to see her attempts at diagramming such Palin sentences as this beaut: “I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people.”

In another article, “The Poetry of Sarah Palin: Recent Works by the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate,” writer Hart Seely makes poetry out of the same kind of murky syntax that Florey tries to diagram. For example:

“You Can’t Blink”

You can’t blink.
You have to be wired
In a way of being
So committed to the mission,

The mission that we’re on,
Reform of this country,
And victory in the war,
You can’t blink.

So I didn’t blink.

(To C. Gibson, ABC News, Sept. 11, 2008)

And somehow, it kind of works. Maybe she missed her true calling?

September 8, 2008

The commanator

Filed under: Overseen,Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 7:18 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Just can’t get enough of Sarah Palin? Well, here’s another one that will wet your word nerd whistle. It’s a photo of our country’s then-future Republican vice presidential nominee wearing a t-shirt with, of all things, a comma catastrophe:

Here it is close up:

Images from the Huffington Post, which reported:  “Sarah Palin in her dorm room at the University of Idaho wearing a t-shirt that reads “I May Be Broke, But I’m Not Flat Busted.” It was kind of them to correct her but if you look closely, the t-shirt actually says “I May Be Broke But, I’m Not Flat Busted” with the comma erroneously placed after but instead of before.

Our friends at SPOGG have concoted a plan for evil genius for addressing what could be a potential shortcoming in our GOP VP nominee. In the meantime, Palin might want to study up on the whole comma thing before National Punctuation Day, which is just around the corner.

September 6, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Case of the Resigning Librarian

There’s a lot that’s interesting about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin but, as a word nerd, I’m most intrigued by the Case of the Resigning Librarian. From a recent Time magazine article:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving “full support” to the mayor.

Mary Ellen Baker (Emmons at the time) eventually resigned. According to the Anchorage Daily News, “Palin pressured Wasilla librarian“:

The stories are all suggestive, but facts are hard to come by. Did Palin actually ban books at the Wasilla Public Library?

In December 1996, Emmons told her hometown newspaper, the Frontiersman, that Palin three times asked her — starting before she was sworn in — about possibly removing objectionable books from the library if the need arose.

Were any books censored banned? June Pinell-Stephens, chairwoman of the Alaska Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee since 1984, checked her files Wednesday and came up empty-handed. Four days before the exchange at the City Council, Emmons got a letter from Palin asking for her resignation.

Pinell-Stephens also had no record of any phone conversations with Emmons about the issue back then. Emmons was president of the Alaska Library Association at the time. Books may not have been pulled from library shelves, but there were other repercussions for Emmons.

As with many of the stories emerging about Palin, the details of the Case of the Resigning Librarian remain a little murky. For example, exactly which books Palin was hoping to have removed isn’t clear yet (a supposed list posted at librarian.net has proven to be a fake but the discussion there is interesting). Librarians Against Palin is tracking this issue, and you can also follow it at Library Journal, which isn’t that probing in its analysis but has some good links.   

So, who wants to send Sarah Palin a Happy Banned Books Week card?

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