Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sarah's psuedo Shakespeare

Already an old hand at making rather original and tortured disquisitions in the American idiom of the English language, political personality Sarah Palin® has lately invoked William Shakespeare in defending her malapropisms, and done it on Twitter, the reigning 140-character Hyde Park soapbox. Verily, the Bard sleeps uneasy this day.

Palin weighed in on Twitter on Sunday, with a reaction to the controversy concerning the possible location of Cordoba House, an Islamic community center, to near Ground Zero, the lower Manhattan site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Ground Zero Mosque supporters,” she tweeted, “doesn't it stab you in the heart as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, please refudiate.”

You don’t have to be the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to see that “refudiate” isn’t a word. Palin clearly meant either “repudiate” or “refute.” Her spontaneous portmanteau was a forgivable mashup; since F and P aren’t exactly neighbors on a standard QWERTY keyboard, it was also clearly an intentional one.

When the blogosphere weighed in to make comments, Palin defended herself on historical grounds.

Palin later tweeted: “ ‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee'd up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”

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At one level, of course, Palin’s absolutely right; the English language, and especially the American idiom of that language, is rich with coinages and inventions that contradict or alter the meaning of long-existent words — inventions that through widespread vernacular usage become part of the language itself (Spike Lee’s “wannabes” from his film “School Daze” is a classic example).

“Taken comically, Palin’s use of ‘refudiate’ is a good instance of the kind of coining Shakespeare did,” observed Matthew Biberman at AOL News. “Even though the word doesn't exist, we get the point. There are similar instances in serious contexts in Shakespeare.”

It’d be easier to buy such a defense in Palin’s case if the former nominal Alaska governor hadn’t already developed a history of mangling the language stretching back to her stint as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential campaign.

It would also be easier to accept if Palin herself hadn’t engaged in backing and filling after her initial tweets — deleting her own linguistic invention in another tweet an hour or so later: “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.”

Palin’s future role in the political life of the United States remains to be seen; her name’s still bandied about in some circles as that of a possible presidential contender. The deciders of that role may be the American people, whose memories of Bush administration “strategeries” are still fresh.

If Palin puts her hat in the ring two years from now, we’ll see how this Shakespearey thing works out for her then — when she confronts the oratorical gifts of President Obama. There’s no time for refudiation quite like a presidential campaign.

Image credits: Palin: C-SPAN.

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