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November 19, 2010

Refudiate Revisitated

One of the things I love about the English language - especially the American version - is...

...how our language adapts, distorts and absorbs new vocabulary - no matter where it comes from.

Pop culture, technology, emerging industries and, of course, public figures all contribute to the ever-congealing accumulation of words that come into common use.

Even mistakes or misunderstandings make their way into our everyday conversations. The Oxford American dictionary picked up one of Sarah Palin's mangled words as its word of the year. http://blog.oup.com/2010/11/refudiate-2/.

The process of how a word makes its way into our common lexicon is instructive. Sarah Palin's word "refudiate" doesn't have a distinct or original meaning (it's a combination of "refute" and "repudiate") but, in a typical American process, a word becomes accepted, not by its usefulness or originality, but by its frequency and public presence.

And so, it is almost reasonable that those of us who questioned (or even mocked) "refudiate" several months ago (you can see my observations from last July here -http://www.esl-lesson-plan.com/mt.cgi?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=495&blog_id=1 ) are ultimately responsible for the word being permanently inscribed into our language.

I would urge any educated person to avoid the word "refudiate" in conversation or writing. It is far from proper and holds no real or original meaning. It will forever be a word associated with Sarah Palin and her political allegiances. It will also be a word tied to the year 2010.

It is always tempting to use a word because we see or hear it used around us, but keep in mind that, both as individuals and as well as a culture, the more we use a word, the more embedded it becomes and and the more we are identified with it. I would urge you to use words that are, in fact, legitimate words: words with real histories and roots in both language and culture.

Whether you agree or disagree with Sarah Palin's political ideology, the word "refudiate" is, at least linguistically, a mistake, and errors are best avoided as you present yourself as a competent user of the English language.

Also, consider these words as possible candidates as word of the year for 2010. What do these emergent words tell us about our era?

"bankster noun (informal) a member of the banking industry perceived as a predator that grows rich at the expense of those suffering in a crumbling economy: trillions of dollars are flowing to the banksters in the form of near-zero interest loans. "

"nom nom (informal) exclamation an expression of delight when eating.
pl. noun (nom noms) delicious food.
verb (nom-nom) eat delicious food with obvious enjoyment.
adjective (nom-nommy) descriptive of delicious food.
[origin — imitative; popularized by the noises made by the character Cookie Monster on Sesame Street (usually as “Om nom nom nom”)]"

Let us know what it is about English that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else has heard of and riding his bicycle in foreign cities. Morf is currently a radio host (tacoma.fm) and a newspaper columnist http://www.thenewstribune.com/opinion/columnists/morf_morford/.

Posted by mmorf at November 19, 2010 11:41 PM

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