My piece on Sarah Palin’s refudiate — “Got to celebrate it!” — is on Fresh Air today
(weirdly edited and repunctuated on the NPR site but fixed now). I noodle over why Palin never cottoned to the error before she was caught called out and felt obliged to defend it: probably because repudiate is an item that you're most likely to encounter in books with semicolons in them. (I wanted to call the piece "Never a Duh! Moment" but NPR likes titles that tip their hands.) In the end, though, I was more interested in the keening indignation that these things evoke among the logotariat (can’t find any other hits for that one, but a claim of first coining requires more intense Zimmering than I’m capable of). It's a point that has been made before in these pages, particularly by Mark (for example here, here, and here); I defended Palin against the de-haut-en-bushwah (Ben?) condescension of her critics here and here. But it isn't as if it doesn't still need saying:
Take the way the logotariat reacted to Palin's use of "verbage" in place of "verbiage" during the 2008 campaign. It's a very common error, and in its way a logical one. The "i" in "verbiage" doesn't make any sense if you think, as most people do, that the word is related to "verb" and "verbal." (It actually comes from the same root as "warble.") But in The New Yorker, James Wood took "verbage" as Palin's own invention, calling it a perfect example of the Republicans' disdain for words: "so close to garbage, so far from language."
"Where do you begin with that? With the remarkable condescension of "garbage" (so close to "trash")? Or with the insolence of asserting that faulty usage betrays stupidity and turpitude?
One way or the other, it's a form of smugness that transcends partisan boundaries — people on the right are just as quick to ridicule Obama and Joe Biden for their mistakes.
But the well-spoken aren't necessarily wiser or better than the rest of us. Most of the horrors that the human race has had to endure in modern times were inflicted at the bidding of men who spoke in shapely grammatical sentences. Unfortunately, eloquence doesn't come next to godliness; a devotion to language will have to be its own reward. Could we just celebrate that?