Repudiate, Refute, and Reject

By Maeve Maddox

How can I resist jumping into the fray over Sarah Palin’s use of the word “refudiate”?

Here’s the notorious tweet as it originally appeared:

Ground Zero Mosque supporters, doesn’t it stab you in the heart as it does our throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, please refudiate.”

Here is the tweet with which it was replaced:

Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real.

I was amazed and delighted that a mere word could cause such a stir. Within minutes, it seems, we were informed that the word had been used once before, in 1984, by science-fiction writer John Sladke. Looking up Sladke, of whom I’d never heard, I learned that he wrote satire. That could explain his use of “refudiate.”

The word is a portmanteau that seems to combine refute with repudiate. The “corrected” tweet uses refute where reject would be more appropriate.

“Refudiate” is an amusing word and one which, like “misunderestimate” is going to be used a lot in jest. It does not, however, seem to bring any new meaning or connotation to the language.

repudiate: To cast off, disown (a person or thing previously claimed as one’s own or associated with oneself).

Repudiate is a transitive verb. You repudiate something or someone you no longer wish to be associated with. You can repudiate a debt, a wife, or a belief.

…this paper argues that it may well be in poor people’s interests for their governments to repudiate debt.

 It’s time to repudiate this doctrine and satisfy U.S. energy needs without reliance on military intervention.

Will NAACP repudiate their own racist comments about Kenneth Gladney, caught on tape?

J.C. Watts says Christians should repudiate extremist groups

refute: To prove (something) to be false, esp. by means of argument or debate.

Refute is also a transitive verb. You refute an argument or a doctrine or a claim by offering evidence to disprove it.

Does Neuroscience Refute Free Will?

Trademark Owners Often Can Refute the First-Sale Doctrine

The major evidence that refutes Mr. Stinnett’s claim … comes from archival documents that were declassified in 1999…

Vice provost Dr Patrick Prendergast told the news provider the plans [to include non-traditional students] refuted the perception among some of TCD as an “elite” institution.

Gerdemann hopes to refute the continually underlined idea that no one can contest the Tour de France without doping…

reject: To refuse to recognize, acquiesce in, submit to, adopt, or allow…; to refuse to believe (a statement, etc.), to discard from consideration.

NZ Government must reject whaling plan

Belmonte, Lakas reject plan to slash pork barrel

Scotland must reject dependency culture

Germany Will Probably Reject Opel Aid Request, Lawmaker Says

By all means, have fun with “refudiate.” Just don’t use it in your serious writing when what you mean is repudiate, refute, or reject.

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6 Responses to “Repudiate, Refute, and Reject”

  • Ernest

    continue with these progressive reminders coming its because most of us pretend to be experts when in actual sence we are still learning.
    Thanks and continue with the good work

  • Mary Hodges

    To me “refudiate” looks like a straight typo. Just shows you should spell check everything you write even if it’s only a tweet.

  • Cecily

    @Mary: F is nowhere near P on my keyboard. 😉

    Anyway, Palin made it worse by her subsequent actions: replacing it with a different error and then claiming it was a deliberate new coinage, akin to Shakespeare.

  • deborah

    The stir was not caused by a “mere word.” It was caused by the fact that the woman who wrote it (she must have got to the keyboard before her handlers could stop her) is ignorant and proud of it and wants to run this country because it is “God’s plan.” Think about that. The danger is not that this divine plan will ever be realized; the danger is that her followers are just as ignorant and uneducated and fearful as she is–all it takes is one: the death of Dr Tiller is the perfect example of what these people think is God’s plan. I have people in my own family who support and defend everything Sarah Palin says and does. It’s no laughing matter.

  • Nelida K.

    Maeve, I’m so glad you took this up, because the use of “repudiate” (I had not seen the previous “refudiate”) so grated on my idiomatic ears! I immediately thought to myself “of course, ‘reject’ is what she meant”. Politics apart – I am not a U.S. citizen and I don’t live in the States, so it doesn’t befit me to issue an opinion – you’ll find that politicians (as well as anchor persons, newscasters, talkshow hosts, journalists, reporters, etc.) are not linguists and they are inclined to make these mistakes. This happens also in my native tongue, Spanish. What makes these mistakes stand out in such a way, is that the infractors are public persons and shapers of public opinion, role models as it were, and they should be more careful and knowledgeable about their use of vocabulary.

    The crux of the matter of this incidence, is that Mrs. Palin tried to correct a mistake with yet another mistake. I believe that she would do well to include a linguist in her staff.

  • Shannon

    Repudiate . . . disown something: to disapprove of something formally and strongly and renounce any connection with it. Words are powerful tools and can be used to empower the reader/hearer, depending on how it is wielded. When you are in the public eye, you must pick and choose your words wisely, or you will find that your opposers will pick you apart. One syllable or letter can change the whole course or direction of a thought or idea that changes the landscape of public opinion in a moment. Depending on your audience, and the sphere of influence one has, one word can shift the proverbial plates, that have been slowly eroding for years and cause a tsunami of paramount proportions to occur.

    Now as a counter balance, one must take what is said into context with the whole of an expressed thought/idea being spoken. You must understand the character, motive and intention of what is trying to be conveyed, without immediately concluding a ‘conspiracy theory.’ There is a famous saying from Hamlet, ‘Me thinks thou dost protest too much!’ Which means, why must you protest, if what you believe is the truth? No need…

    It is necessary to study history so we are not destined to repeat it. The ‘civil war mentality,’ must be a lesson learned, so as not to repeat the atrocities of brother fighting against brother and a nation is lost in its own freedom of speech and yet have nothing to say. So what’s in a word?

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