I am not a prescriptionist. I embrace a living language as much as any modern lexicographer.
I'm also not a hater. When George W. Bush had nary a friend in the world, I still wanted him to do well because I wanted the country to do well.
And when he coined the word "Misunderestimate" I went along. The word filled a hole in the language, and was a clever mash-up. It also sort of summed up his presidency.
Now comes Sarah Palin.
In a tweet, she called on her tweeps to "refudiate" something.
First: To her credit, it's clear that she types her own tweets. That's good.
(The alternate thought, that she has someone so inept with language working for her as a writer, is simply too horrible to imagine.)
Second: She saw it was a mistake and pulled the offense to the language. Good for her.
Third: She compounded the error in the worst way possible, tweeting this:
"Refudiate," "misunderestimate," "wee-wee'd up." English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!
OK, just to be clear: "Refudiate" may have started life as a malaprop, just as with misunderestimate, but it will die there. It's not a new concept and it doesn't have any kind of clear meaning the way that misunderestimate does.
Misunderestimate is clear from the word itself. Does "refudiate" mean to refuse to repudiate, or to repudiate more? I suppose it might creep into the language incorrectly (see irregardless, penultimate, etc.), but I don't think it will. At least I hope not.
"Repudiate" is a fine word. As with all strong verbs, it carries any sentence smartly. "Refudiate" is risible.
Palin's worst offense against language, however, is her invocation of Shakespeare. You can almost see the little hamster wheel spinning in Palin's head here: She learned -- during one of her brief interludes at one of her sundry institutions of higher learning -- that the Bard coined many of the words he wrote. She hung on to that little factoid for a moment just such as this.
I can just... see her... sitting in the back of class... twirling her hair while languorously doodling strings of made-up words on the construction-paper cover of Introduction to English Literature. She hears that Shakespeare invented words and then spends the rest of the class thinking about how she is just like him but she is trapped in the cruel world of academia -- until a squirrel went by outside the window.
What she missed in that class is that there was no dictionary to consult for Shakespeare. The language had no guide then. If he wanted to write about a character who was something less pernicious than "cheap" he needed to invent "frugal."
So, I say that we repudiate "refudiate" except in one very narrow sense: If we find a person using the language improperly, and then claiming the mantle of Shakespeare in becoming a faux-neologist, I say that we rise up and refudiate that person in the strongest terms possible.
Sarah Palin, I refudiate you!