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Pierced

Refudiate is in

That's our cue to let the anti-words roll.

By Charles P. Pierce
December 12, 2010

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Dear Christine Lindberg: We can make up words now? Cool! As senior lexicographer for the publisher of the New Oxford American Dictionary, you’ve set us all free by naming Sarah Palin’s “refudiate” – which previously was not a word; not in English at any rate – your “Word of the Year.” Now, I know that you can get into the kind of trouble here that Time magazine gets into every year when people remind it that it named Hitler its “Man of the Year” back in 1938. (And let’s not even get into the Jesuitical donnybrook that breaks out every year over how sportswriters parse the meaning of the word “valuable” in the various MVP awards.) But your reason for singling out what was previously a non-word – or, to borrow a helpful bit from both the church of my birth and theoretical physics, an anti-word – is that so many people ridiculed “refudiate” and its inventor that the word took on a life of its own. In other words, if enough people believe a neologism’s creator to be eight bulbs short of a chandelier, and if they express that opinion with sufficient enthusiasm, then any new lexicographic mutation is suddenly rendered a word through the crackling electric energy imparted by sheer contempt. For example, if I refer to, say, a shortstop as little more than a “grzylyywllym,” and enough people call the Globe wondering why this idiot in the magazine is suddenly writing in Welsh, then I could be next year’s winner. As I said, cool.

Charles P. Pierce / cpierce@globe.com

  • December 12, 2010 cover