Monday, July 19, 2010

Palinian Refudiations

Soberer heads than mine are reaching for the Tylenol this morning as they try to cope with Sarah Palin's coinage of the word "refudiate," and her subsequent undertaking to refudiate the same. Critics are assigning it to the dustbin of history even before it has enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame.

I would not be so quick to dismiss it. I'm sure it will be around at least long enough for its own 15-minutes of self-irony. I assume there is already a tee-shirt (white on black sounds right) saying "I refudiate Sarah!" And coming soon to a garage near you: a band called "The Refudiators." It sounds like a good name for that little novelty box that you'd find on the bar at cocktail lounges--you'd pull a lever and a hand would reach out and pull the lever back.

But the history of coinages in political campaigns is equivocal at best. The most noteworthy example I can think of (and even this may not be a true coinage) is Warren G. Harding:

America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy;

I suppose "normalcy" remains "a word" in some sense, but I suspect it has never quite passed over the barrier into respectability, lashed ever, as it must be, to Harding's own somewhat shabby reputation. "It's not really a world," muttered my not overly respectable mother (who usually voted Republican). It languishes in the dustbin of languages somewhere close to Dan Quayle's "potatoe," and perhaps for similar reasons.

She's right on a related point, though--that another successful word-coiner was himself, William Shakespeare: thanks to him, hot-blooded Sarah is free to put up a howl of amazement at the barefaced and baseless falsehoods of the newsmongers as they argue that the Arctic ice is being discandied. And if Katy Couric ever asks her to just, maybe, name a few Shakespearean coinages, she can go here.

Update: Loving critics tell me that I've overlooked George W. Bush. I guess I can see where they're coming from, but most Bushisms take the form of waky nonlinear (or colinear?) sentences or paragraphs--as in "One of my concerns is that the health care not be as good as it can possibly be." I suppose I should make a place for "misunderestimated," though.

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