Re-fu-di-ate (ri-fyoo-de-at') vt. To deny or else to prove wrong or perhaps something in between those quite different meanings. Merging of repudiate and refute first coined by former vice-presidential candidate and aspiring semanticist Sarah Palin.
People abuse the English language all the time. Count this newspaper's writers among those who sometimes err — despite the most valiant efforts of editors and copy desk staff. Humans make mistakes. But when errors are caught, most people admit wrong and corrections are made.
Occasionally public speakers will coin new terms when the dictionary falls short. Ten years ago, tweeting was restricted to birds. There are even politicians who will purposely invent words for effect. President George W. Bush chided critics for "misunderestimating" him and the public was in on his self-deprecating humor. Not long ago, President Barack Obama deliberately chose to use the phrase "wee-weed up" as a way to invoke the juvenile bed-wetting nervousness inside the Beltway.
But Ms. Palin took quite a different tack on lexicology this week when she was caught on Twitter calling on "peaceful Muslims" to "refudiate" the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York. No doubt this mostly left the readers confused.
Most likely she meant repudiate as in deny, disown of cast off publicly. The word suits her meaning perfectly. Refute — to prove wrong — does not.
This would not be particularly noteworthy except for what happened next. Rather than laugh off the error, she tweeted back claiming her word was valid and comparing it not only to presidential examples of misunderestimated and wee-weed but to the efforts of none other than William Shakespeare who "liked to coin new words, too."
"English is a living language," the former Alaska governor wrote.
Across the country, a generation of high school English teachers just died a little. Such explanations smack more of a 10th grader caught confusing there, their and they're than someone who came up with a genuinely new and helpful word like "co-mates" as Shakespeare did to describe people banded together in "As You Like It."
There is a helpful colloquialism to describe Ms. Palin's writings on most topics: Often wrong, but never in doubt. She is a politician for the Internet age: Outraged and outrageous at the drop of a hat. The Lady Gaga for the Fox News crowd.
Palinism (pal' in-i-zem) n. A non sequitur offered by a politician of great ambition who confuses notoriety with achievement. [The public was hungry for insight from Republican leadership but all they got was another Palinism].