“Refudiate,” a word that began as a likely typo in a tweet by Sarah Palin about the 9/11 mosque, has become the “word of the year,” according to the New American Oxford English Dictionary, beating out a number of examples of computer-inspired jargon.
According to the New York Times:
“Ammon Shea, an author and dictionary expert who was involved in this year’s voting process, said nominations for the award are based on a number of criteria, including the amount of attention the word has received over the previous year and whether its usage has grown.”
The whole controversy started last July, as I related at the time, when Sarah Palin sent the following tweet:
“Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real.”
The firestorm of criticism was immediate. “Refudiate” was obviously not a real word. It seemed to be a combination of the words “refute” and “repudiate.” Palin’s enemies thought they had caught her in a Dan Quayle-style “potatoe” moment.
But then Palin doubled down with the following tweet:
“‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”
Now Sarah Palin had done it. The rube from the backwoods of Wasilla, Alaska, was actually comparing herself to the Immortal Bard. The presumptuousness of the woman, thinking that she could shove a made-up word down our throats and make it part of the English language was, her enemies sniffed, breathtaking.
However, “refudiate” seems to have taken on a life of its own and, within a few short months, has entered common usage. And now “refudiate” is the official word of the year 2010, according to the New American Oxford Dictionary.
It is a testament to the awesome power of the Internet that a typo can become an actual word almost from the instant it is used. Stories and videos go viral all the time, spreading throughout the world close to the speed of light, affecting our politics and popular culture within days, if not hours. But “refudiate” may be the first time that a word that does not involve texting or social media has entered the English language with such speed and thoroughness.
Compared to Palin, Shakespeare was no match for coining words. After all, Shakespeare only had live theater and the printing press to disseminate his new turns of phrase. Sarah Palin has a Twitter account and a facebook page.
Palin may or may not become president, but she seems to have demonstrated a newfound power — to affect the way we speak and write. Will she use it wisely? We suspect so. That will only serve to annoy her critics even more.
Sources: A Palin Flub Becomes a ‘Word of the Year’, Nick Bilton, New York Times, November 15th, 2010
Sarah Palin Invents ‘Refudiate,’ Gets a Lot of People Angry, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, July 19th, 2010