Refudiate, Sarah Palin’s Made Up Word, Named “Word Of The Year”


An unquestionable buzzword in 2010, the word refudiate instantly evokes the name of Sarah Palin, who tweeted her way into a flurry of media activity when she used the word in certain statements posted on Twitter. Critics pounced on Palin, lampooning what they saw as nonsensical vocabulary and speculating on whether she meant “refute” or “repudiate.”

From a strictly lexical interpretation of the different contexts in which Palin has used “refudiate,” we have concluded that neither “refute” nor “repudiate” seems consistently precise, and that “refudiate” more or less stands on its own, suggesting a general sense of “reject.”

Although Palin is likely to be forever branded with the coinage of “refudiate,” she is by no means the first person to speak or write it—just as Warren G. Harding was not the first to use the word normalcy when he ran his 1920 presidential campaign under the slogan “A return to normalcy.” But Harding was a political celebrity, as Palin is now, and his critics spared no ridicule for his supposedly ignorant mangling of the correct word “normality.”

And like “normalcy,” refudiate is not a real word.

This comes from the New Oxford American Dictionary. I suppose the idea of being the guardians of the English language hadn’t occurred to them.

H/T: David Weigel

FILED UNDER: US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Simon says:

    And like “normalcy,” refudiate is not a real word.

    “Normalcy,” says Merriam-Webster’s 1994 Dictionary of English Usage, after reciting the Harding history, “is now a perfectly reputable word, recognized as standard by all major dictionaries.” Op. cit. at 665. While H.W. Fowler sniffed at it (Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 1st ed. at 382), his heirs have yielded to popular consensus, see Fowler’s 3d, at 528. The ship appears to have sailed on that one, Doug.

    Of course, MW also notes that while Harding, like Palin, was a polarizing figure, normalcy, unlike refudiate, was not new coinage. He merely popularized the term, and it might be fair to say that after the turbulence of association with Harding, the word merely returned to its previous glidepath into the language—implying a bleak future for “refudiate.” But I think that times have changed, and ugly coinage though it is, I suspect it’s here to stay, particularly in light of this announcement.

  2. Trumwill says:

    This comes from the New Oxford American Dictionary. I suppose the idea of being the guardians of the English language hadn’t occurred to them.

    If people use it and people understand what it means when it is used, I don’t care what y’all think: it’s a word.

    The English language has too many shortcomings with words we need but do not have to freak out over unnecessary words being introduced into the language.

  3. John Burgess says:

    Doug! You, a prescriptivist? Say it isn’t so!

    Language is as language does. Celebrate the advent of a new and useful word, don’t bitch because you never heard it before. Every word that comes from your mouth, gets transcribed via your fingers, enters your ocular canal had a birthday at one point.

    You seem to be upset that for a few of them we actually know that date…

  4. Jack says:

    Really? We want to have language police like the French?

    Not that I like Sarah Palin, but one of the wonders of English is the vocabulary, which is very large. English is a true living language, evolving…

    Ooops, “evolution” is a bad word, isn’t it?

  5. John425 says:

    cribbed from

    “Personally I never understood the screeching over the whole “refudiate” thing. Words are made up in our language all the time. I mean when Mary J. Blige sang that we “[d]on’t need no hateration, holleratin’/In this dancery” I don’t think anyone called her stupid. She was just making up words. Not to mention that often words get their meanings changed drastically in our culture. The word funk existed before George Clinton and James Brown sang a note, but it only (relatively) recently became attached to a form of music. And the idea that it could be a good thing to be “bad” didn’t start with Michael Jackson, but he was reflecting a fairly recently emerging slang use of that familiar word.”

    And her reality show was a smash hit!!

  6. Smooth Jazz says:

    That giant sucking sound is the head of Doug and the other elitist Liberals at this forum hitting the floor as this news crossed the wires. Now he and his snobbish cohorts at OTB are busy trying to figure out why that “dunce” from Alaska could have a word she just made up honored by the New Oxford Dictionary people. This is too funny.

    I know something else that is going to make the heads of OTB moderators and posters explode: Wait until she is done with the 8 week run on TLC and she is seen by the American people in situations other than a Katie Couric ambush. Wait until the American people get to know her. Doug will be muttering to himself “Palin is Divisive”, “Palin is Divisive”, “Palin is Divisive” as she gets another look from the majority of Americans who are not as passionate about politics and remain open minded.

    This is rich: Sarah Palin, The idiot/moron from Alaska, creating dictionary words. Did I forget to say this is rich.

  7. Ken says:

    I find the reaction to the addition of the word odd.

    Adding it to this dictionary — which is notorious for accepting the trendy and banal — is meaningless. They added “BFF” and “bromance” this year. The language will survive.

    I don’t know whether Palin intended to coin a new clever word, or just tried and failed to use an existing one, then spun it as creativity later. I don’t know whether this dictionary is adding it to celebrate the word, or as a gesture of derision. I don’t care.

  8. Janis Gore says:

    Use it in good cheer.

    I know I hate to misunderestimate the amount of food for a party.

  9. What exactly, other than the aesthetic tastes of Doug Mataconis, make particular words more or less real than other words?

    “Normalcy” is a perfectly cromulent word.

  10. mantis says:

    There’s a difference between making up a word on purpose and doing so accidentally because you don’t realize what you’re saying isn’t a word. But if people use it and others recognize its meaning, it’s a word in common usage.

    And a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man. Also, too.