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Refudiate is the New Normalcy

Sarah Palin's right that "English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too." And that's something to be afraid of -- because she's contributing far more to the trough of public consciousness than just a few verbal miscues.
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Try to ignore, for a second, all the connotations of Sarah Palin's missive to "Peaceful Muslims" that they "pls refudiate" the construction of an Islamic community center -- complete with a swimming pool and auditorium, in addition to center of worship -- in the vicinity of Ground Zero. (Is one meant to infer that it's the "terrorist Muslims" who are in favor of the planned community center?)

Instead, acknowledge Sarah Palin's contribution to the English language: "Refudiate." As Jacob Weisberg of Slate and The Guardian have noted, this is not the word's first appearance in Palin's public lexicon. She dropped the "R-bomb" during an interview with Sean Hannity last week, urging Barack and Michelle Obama to refudiate the NAACP and other left-leaning critics who fear the Tea Party Movement may be veering toward racism. Once can be an accident, twice is an indicator; the natural assumption has to be that this is a word Palin believes in, and likely employed heavily in private conversation.

Also, hand it to Palin. Refudiate is catchy, and sounds right to the ear -- likely to the same bunch to whom "imply" and "infer" feel the same. The model for refudiate will likely not be outlandish malapropisms such "misunderestimate," which enter and are laughed out of the public forum in a matter of days. Think past 'Dubya. Recall instead Warren Gamaliel Harding.

As H.L. Menken wrote of Harding in his essay Gamalielese:

[Harding] takes the first place in my Valhalla of literati. That is to say, he writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up to the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash. (...)

The whole inaugural address reeked with just such nonsense. The thing started off with an error in English in its very first sentence -- the confusion of pronouns in the one-he combination, so beloved of bad newspaper reporters. It bristled with words misused: civic for civil, luring for alluring, womanhood for women, referendum for reference, even task for problem. "The task is to be solved" -- what could be worse?

Chances are, many of us probably make those same Gamalielesque vocab snafus in conversation today. Except that, thanks to Harding, they're no longer mistakes. It was in that same inaugural address that Harding introduced the world to the concept of "normalcy," which was birthed because Harding had trouble spitting out the correct word, "normality," during his regular flow of speech. Today normalcy may be found in any common dictionary; when's the last time anyone heard normality used with ease?

This point may seem light, but it underscores a harsh reality: Even thoughtless political rhetoric, no matter how inane, does seep into the common zeitgeist. Just yesterday, South Carolina Senate candidate and former nobody Alvin Greene delivered his first campaign address, in which he vowed to "reclaim our country from the terrorists and the communists." It should be sobering that a political neophyte who has imbibed the entirety of his campaign know-how over the past two months feels it appropriate -- and hardly worth highlighting -- the fact that he will be a counter-measure to the communist and terrorist forces that the Sarah Palin-approved pundit class has been shoehorning into the public discourse.

Around the country and across the pond, everyone has had a good laugh about Sarah Palin's tweeted concession that "English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!" But she's right. And that's something to be afraid of -- because she's contributing far more to the trough of public consciousness than just a few verbal miscues.