Creative word use, politicians, natural laws


In a recent post, “Get your new words while they’re hot,” we looked at neologisms that have appeared in these pages. Read on for more along those lines.

Back in March of this year Bill the Mathematician sent me to the “Church For Christ” site, which quoted Sarah Palin’s now-famous remark:

“We need to take this opportunity to talk about Jesus and rebute these lies and show people they cannot simply seek the truth, but how they can find the true Christ in the Bible.”

Bill the M. speculates that she wanted say “refute.” Or “rebut,” maybe even “rebuke.” But all you have to do is consult The Intelligent Politician’s Practical Handbook, Chapter 3, “Lexical legerdemain” (by yours truly, still in draft) to find the real answer. “Rebute” is a portmanteau expression including all the senses Bill suggested plus, most importantly, “reboot.” But Palin prefers to deliver “reboot,” for reasons that remain obscure, with a Brit accent. The idea is that, if you reboot a lie (roughly “re-beaut”), it’ll come out somehow better—more effective, at least, if not actually veridical.

Of course Sarah Palin has coined other fine neologisms. “Refudiate,” for one, has yet to fade from the popular consciousness. And, however much lexicographers remain reluctant to enshrine the word in official dictionaries, they do admire it, in one case going so far as to designate it “Word of the Year.”

‘The new Chambers Dictionary includes “freegan” and “geek chic,” and Merriam-Webster has recently added “staycation.” Not that lexicographers will include any word that swims into their ken: so far they’ve drawn the line at “refudiate,” though the editors of the Oxford American chose it for their 2010 Word of the Year.’

— from “When a Dictionary Could Outrage,” by Geoffrey Nunberg (NY Times, 23 September 2011.)

Anyway, the important thing for me to take away from all this is an item for The Intelligent Politician’s Practical Handbook, Chapter 7, “Riffing reality”:

If you rebute (reboot/re-beaut) a lie, it can come out better. That is to say, whether or not the rebuted version is true, strictly speaking, it may at least be more effective.

Here’s a related article: “In praise of urban dictionaries,”  (The Guardian, 21 April 2011) “Once scholars agonised for years over additions to language. Now, online dictionaries enable instant updates…”