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“Refudiate” word-of-the-year (in November?) is cheap ripoff of American Dialect Society and is fake “news”

You might have heard that Sarah Palin’s “refudiate” has been declared the word-or-the-year. It’s a cheap p.r. stunt, reported only because the media wants to believe this.

I’m a longtime member of the American Dialect Society. In 1990, the ADS announced its first word of the year (and words of the year). “WOTY” is announced every year at the annual meeting, held about the first week in January.

The word-of-the-year need not be a new word coined that year, but it should be a word popularized that year (such as the word “chad”–not new to the 2000 presidential election). The Associated Press has long covered the ADS word-of-the-year, so others decided to get in on the act.

Merriam-Webster has its word of the year, but it does it earlier–in December. Free publicity! The New Oxford American Dictionary decided to beat everyone to the publicity punch by announcing its word-of-the-year in the first half of November. The NOAD WOTY is even less scientific than the ADS WOTY; for all anyone knows, it could have been selected by one person.

From the New York Times:

November 15, 2010, 5:00 pm
A Palin Flub Becomes a ‘Word of the Year’
By NICK BILTON
At the start of the year the word “refudiate” didn’t exist. In mid-July Sarah Palin, Alaska’s former governor, changed that when she used the word in a Twitter message, somehow mashing up “refute” and “repudiate,” while trying to say something like “reject.”

Now refudiate has been named the word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, published by the Oxford University Press, beating out a number of other locutions — many technology-related — that have spread through the language and the Web over the past year.

In 2009, the award went to ”unfriend.”

Actually, the word “refudiate” did exist before 2010. Other people have said it. We’ve discussed “refudiate” on the ADS discussion list years ago. But when other people say “refudiate,” it’s not important. Sarah Palin used it! Also, the “refudiate” gaffe is not the “Word of the Year”–it’s some publicity-seeking dictionary’s “Word of the Year.”

From the original press release:

OUP USA 2010 Word of the Year: Refudiate
Posted on Monday, November 15th, 2010 at 8:27 am
refudiate verb used loosely to mean “reject”: she called on them to refudiate the proposal to build a mosque.
[origin — blend of refute and repudiate]

Now, does that mean that “refudiate” has been added to the New Oxford American Dictionary? No it does not. Currently, there are no definite plans to include “refudiate” in the NOAD, the OED, or any of our other dictionaries. If you are interested in the most recent additions to the NOAD, you can read about them here. We have many dictionary programs, and each team of lexicographers carefully tracks the evolution of the English language. If a word becomes common enough (as did last year’s WOTY, unfriend), they will consider adding it to one (or several) of the dictionaries we publish. As for “refudiate,” well, I’m not yet sure that it will be includiated.

This was posted to the American Dialect Society list today from Jon Lighter, editor of the Historical Dictionary of American Slang (where I am a credited contributor):

Subject: Re: It’s Official: NOAD Demeans Self for PR Gold (UNCLASSIFIED)
From: Jonathan Lighter
Reply-To: American Dialect Society

Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2010 10:47:05 -0500

You betcha.

Sarah Palin did not coin “refudiate,” nor did it make its first appearance
in 2010. While the word would be amusing regardless of which supercelebrity
it was associated with, it was widely seen as embarrassing to Palin, who
even admitted it was an error, albeit the kind we should “celebrate.”

I have to assume that NOAD knew this, since the word has been discussed
right here.

The announcement came within hours of the long awaited premiere of _Sarah
Palin’s Alaska_. Coincidence? Or a way to ride her coattails, get extra
publicity, and move dictionaries? Friends of Palin get a warm fuzzy feeling
for NOAD and want to buy it; foes smile at the reminder and want to buy it.

Unlike “truthiness,” “refudiate” wasn’t coined to make a point. It’s a gaffe
no matter who uses it. They’re regarded, rightly or not, as blunderers. So
it isn’t a good word for a serious dictionary to lionize, if you ask me. Of
course, the whole “word of the year” thing may just be a joke, universally
recognized as happy horseshit everywhere but here. But serious dictionaries
shouldn’t be in the happy-horseshit business without an HH disclaimer.

My point, of course, was to slam NOAD’s selection and, especially, its
crudely apparent motive.

JL

SUMMARY
A dictionary pulls a cheap publicity stunt, making a perfectly timed shameless dig at Sarah Palin. Hundreds of media outlets report it.

Such is “news.”

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