Antedating "refudiate"

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If you haven't quite yet gotten your fill after last week's refudiate-fest, I return to the Palinism in my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus. An excerpt of interest to all you antedaters:

Some have observed that Palin isn't the first to invent the word refudiate. Patrick Galvin of Politico notes a couple of recent uses, such as Sen. Mike DeWine's statement on "Fox & Friends" in 2006: "I think anyone that is associated with him campaigning needs to refudiate these comments." And on Language Log, Mark Liberman points to a playful usage in John Sladek's 1984 collection of science-fiction short stories, The Lunatics of Terra.

Even earlier is this glaring example that I found in the Atlanta Constitution of June 21, 1925: a headline reading "Scandal Taint Refudiated In Teapot Case by Court, Fall Says in Statement."

The headline refers to a court ruling in the Teapot Dome scandal that rejected accusations of fraud against former Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall and his cronies in the oil business. A Fall press release interpreted the verdict as "refuting all taint of scandal," and the hurried headline writer must have mashed up refute with repudiate, just as Palin would 85 years later.

Read the rest here.

[Update, 7/28: On WNYC's "The Leonard Lopate Show," I talked about refudiate and other "invented" words (including some words mentioned by commenters below, such as ginormous and normalcy.)]

[Update, 7/29: For more on the Hardingisms normalcy and bloviate, see my latest Word Routes column here.]


  1. Sili said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    Hmmm … Teapot, Teabag … coïncidence?

    I'll leave it for Glenn Beck to the chalkwork.

  2. Otter said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

    It's not Palin's grasp of English that interests me, it's her reaction to a mistake. That headline writer must have been embarrassed by the error, while Palin is proud of hers.

    Like Bush, when she's wrong, she doubles down. That would be a worrying trait no matter how admirable her grammar.

  3. Mr Fnortner said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

    As in, "The unfortunate firebombing of the Elbonian capitol building is the tragic result of an Air Force training mission gone awry. In light of the unexpected and unreasonable response of the citizens and government of Elbonia to the brave American heroes who are making their part of the world safer, we have expelled their diplomats and moved two warships within striking distance of their major port," President Palin announced today.

  4. dwmacg said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

    @Otter: I'm no fan of Palin, but it was nice to see her refudiate the prescriptivist position in her response. Maybe Shakespeare was the wrong comparison, but Harding is apt.

    Can we return to normalcy now?

  5. Tom Saylor said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

    Ben Zimmer said: "Some have observed that Palin isn't the first to invent the word refudiate. "

    Did you intentionally write "isn't the first to invent" rather than "did not invent"? Are you thereby suggesting that Palin came up with the word all on her own and that her use of the word is independent of its previous use by others?

    [(bgz) I have no way of knowing whether Palin was influenced by previous instances of refudiate (like, say, Sen. DeWine's 2006 usage). Certainly there's enough phonetic and semantic overlap between refute and repudiate to allow for the possibility of independent (re)invention.]

  6. Nathan Myers said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

    I'm beginning to think "refudiate" means "to fail to refute in a way that draws additional, unwanted attention to the charge and the failure".

  7. Kylopod said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

    For a portmanteu word to be worthwhile, the two words it blends should have distinct meanings. "Brunch" is a useful word because breakfast and lunch aren't the same thing. But if someone combined dinner and supper into a new word (e.g. dupper), what purpose would it serve?

    Granted, "refute" and "repudiate" may have subtle differences in meaning, but that doesn't seem like much of a defense. Out of all the established portmanteu words in our language, is there a single one where the two words from which it derives are anywhere close to being synonyms?

  8. Rick S said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

    How about "ginormous"? (Or is that considered just playful?)

  9. JakeT said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 11:04 pm

    On a completely unrelated note, out of context, that's quite possibly the most confusing headline of all time.

    1. Taint. As in "tainted" or "t'aint"? And for the sake of clarity, the scandal's taint was what was being refudiated? Not the scandal itself?
    2. All of Line #2: "Teapot Case, by Court" or "Teapot Case-by-Court". I don't have any idea what the latter might mean, but then again, considering I've forgotten most of my high school American history, "Teapot Case" is nearly as nonsensical
    3. "Court Fall Say in Statement": Which of these 4 capitalized words is the verb in this sentence? Which is the subject? Hint: the most "active" (by which I mean "kenetic") verb-type word is the subject.

    I'm not saying I could do better, just that I got confused and thought it was funny ;)

  10. Kylopod said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 11:09 pm

    I don't think I've ever heard of "ginormous." It certainly isn't well-established. I've heard of "guesstimate," which has actually made its way into the dictionary. "Guess" and "estimate" are close enough in meaning to appear as synonyms in some thesauruses, but they are still distinct enough for the word "guesstimate" to be intuitively understandable.

    [(bgz) For ginormous, try checking recent editions of dictionaries from Merriam-Webster, Oxford, and Cambridge. M-W made a big deal about including ginormous in its 2007 edition, even though it's attested from 1948.]

  11. nonpoptheorist said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 3:57 am

    I'm shocked that anyone would think 'ginormous' isn't a viable word. Kids use it all the time, I know I did. If that's unfortunately the case, then I'm just going to have to 'disclude' it from my vocabulary.

  12. Lazar said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 4:59 am

    I find "ginormous" to be pretty well-established among my Gen Y crowd.

  13. Faldone said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 11:29 am

    @ Kylopod: Refute means 'to disprove' and repudiate means 'to reject, disassociate oneself from'. Not exactly a subtle difference.

    In many dialects dinner is the largest meal of the day; not necessarily the evening meal. Dupper would have the advantage of explicitly referring to a large evening meal.

  14. KevinM said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

    Harding is doubly relevant in that he or his campaign seem to have brought us the word "normalcy." "A return to normalcy" was his campaign slogan in 1920. It was much remarked upon at the time, because "normality" would have been standard then, and perhaps still is now.

  15. Nathan Myers said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

    Faldone: In use, "refudiate" utterly fails to include the "refute" part of the portmanteau, unless wishing counts. While this is in line with the inclinations of the word's users (cf. "truthiness" ), that is no reason for us to be fooled. In other words, it's not really a portmanteau at all; it's a trivial Dogberryism with pretensions.

    "Dupper" would mean the same thing as "supper". Not a portmanteau and not a Dogberryism, just not useful.

  16. Faldone said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

    I agree that Palin's use of refudiate was not a portmanteau of refute and repudiate. It was just a mistake. Dupper, on the other hand, is useless only if your sociolect considers dinner and supper to be identical. When I grew up dinner, the big meal, was always the evening meal on days other than Sunday. On Sunday dinner was about 2 in the afternoon. Sunday supper was a light meal in the evening. Not that I'm suggesting that dupper is a good word. It's a little too clumsy for my taste but that doesn't detract from my argument that, for some, it could be a useful distinction to indicate that the big meal is the evening meal. And it beats sinner.

  17. Kasper Hauser said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

    When my kids were young, they were always scared of things that were "strangerous".

  18. Justin said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 1:06 am

    Mayor Daley's famous "insinuendo" is another instant classic! h/t to Howie Carr on that one.

  19. dirk alan said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 6:37 pm

    i think the fun part is – it was absolutely clear what she meant. bonus – an anagram of mccainpalin niacin clamp.

  20. Mike Maxwell said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

    Isn't this just a common way for new words to enter the language? Granted, it's taken this one nearly a hundred years, but I imagine it just got a boost. It certainly wouldn't be the first "unnecessary" word to come into the language (for which I nominate 'orientate', although I suppose 'beef', 'veal' and so forth have nearly a millennium on that).

  21. Nick Warren said,

    August 3, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

    Certainly this doesn't antedate the Atlanta Constitution use, but I just stumbled across this sample ballot for the New York State Forensics League: The ballot would be used to judge competitive high school policy debates. I don't know how long it has been in use.

    One of the criteria judges should use when making their decisions: "REFUDIATION – Destroying opponent’s arguments; reinforcing your own arguments"

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