Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day
Another reason for a fresh set of eyes


It seems that Sarah Palin has come up with a portmanteau word: refudiate, combining refute and repudiate. I have two reactions:

  1. I won’t use the word myself, and I don’t recommend adopting it. Refute or repudiate work fine.
  2. I won’t dump on Palin for using the word herself. When she uses it, I know instantly what she means. If the listener instantly understands what the speaker is saying, then the speaker has done her job.



I'm not sure that making oneself instantly understood entirely exhausts what is required to use language well. Audiences matter, and one can make oneself quite clearly understood in ways that unnecessarily alienate an audience (as my teenage son has learned in addressing me in certain colorful language). Of course we know what Palin means when she uses the word "refudiate," but we'd never use it when addressing a judge or, say, the Harvard Law School faculty. But breaking the "rules" often has its own rhetorical purposes, and I suspect Palin is trying to make clear to her audience that she's not considering herself bound to the type of "rules" that she would be if she were addressing the Harvard Law School faculty.


Good point, Peter. You’re right—while conveying the information or idea is important, making a good impression on the audience is also important. In this case, I’ll just say that Palin’s use of “refudiate” does not lower my impression of her.


I have to agree with Peter that being understood ain't good enough. I can understand a Rapper being interviewed (for the most part) but it's just awful to hear.

I don't think Palin is trying to make a point. She reminds me of George Bush and his son George who would speak of nucular weapons.

Stephen R. Diamond

I disagree that "refudiate" is clear, the main problem being that when you blend the words repudiate and refute, the whole is no greater than the sum of its parts. The underlying issue is redundancy, which causes clarity problems. I develop this notion in "Refudiate [sic] pomposity!"

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