Sarah Palin has changed the culture in two short years, and has now changed the English language as well. She has given birth to the Word of the Year by accident, as “refudiate” was given that award by the Global Language Monitor. Refudiate actually means “repudiate,” which is what Palin meant to say on Twitter one night. But when she told Muslims to “refudiate” the controversial New York City mosque, it became her latest trademark, and the latest thing for her critics to mock.
This Word of the Year was conjured by a Twitter mistake, and took a life of its own because of the woman who wrote it. But it isn’t the first new word to become famous in the political and entertainment world. Refudiate was a word that garnered unintentional laughs, but “truthiness” was a funny word that became unintentionally serious years ago.
When Stephen Colbert kicked off The Colbert Report in 2005, the first installment of his “The Word” segment gave birth to “truthiness.” Like refudiate, truthiness is another spin on an established word, but Colbert didn’t just misspell the word “truth.” He used the term to sum up how politicians – often right-wing ones – go by the truth they know in their gut, rather than in their heads.
Using gut feelings and baser emotions, rather than critical thinking, has been a constant complaint about our political culture. The more it happens, the more that “truthiness” has become more like truth, often for ill. Some would likely say that this applies to Palin and her movement, as they rely more on the gut in their protests – like the one she made against the mosque.
However, truthiness was coined back in 2005, well before anyone outside of Alaska knew of Palin. But back then, even wordsmiths knew of the new word’s power, as Oxford named it the Word of the Year as well. Since then, the word has gotten more powerful, as valuing the gut over the head continues to be a winning strategy in politics.
For TV viewers like me, truthiness served as the kickoff for following The Colbert Report. It helped prove that Colbert could carry his own show without Jon Stewart, and led to the foundation of “The Colbert Nation.” It culminated just last month, as myself and others either went to his rally or watched it on TV, as his truthiness clashed with Stewart’s reason and barely lost. However, truthiness will always be out there – with many convinced that it is all around Palin and company.
Perhaps refudiate won’t have as long of a shelf life as truthiness, as it may just go down as fodder for Palin jokes. Yet she, like Colbert before her, has found a way to change the English language and put a new spin on existing words.
Of course, it came by accident for both, as Palin just misspelled a word, and Colbert was just writing a comedy bit for the Report pilot. But like much of the country, Oxford and the other wordsmiths can’t refudiate the truthiness of the words’ power.
NY Post- “Palin’s ‘refudiate’ named 2010 Word of the Year”
Times Colonist- “Refudiate this: Palin plays fast and loose with the language”