I just got back from watching the upcoming movie Ramona and Beezus, and while I can’t tell you my opinion of it just yet, I can tell you that there’s a scene early in the film when Ramona tries to explain her lackluster report card by saying that the teacher keeps downgrading her for using made-up words like “terrifical.” Ramona asks, “Why can’t I say ‘terrifical’ just because the teacher says I can’t?” Her question reminded me that Sarah Palin thinks “refudiate” is a word.
In a development that probably caused all of Jon Stewart’s writers to fall on their knees and say, “Thank you,” Palin used that nonexistent word in two separate Twitter posts over the last few days. Had she used it in just one post, it would have been written off as some sort of typo. Twice? Yeah, she thinks it’s really a word. The original posts have since been deleted, but she’s said the non-word on TV, too. Already the jokes are rolling in.
It’s Dan Quayle all over again. From a pure usage standpoint, the vice president’s 1992 misspelling of “potato” was more embarrassing, an error that most schoolkids would have caught. However, I think Palin’s mistake might be more damaging. Using the word “refudiate” is more than just a sign of simple ignorance. It’s a sign of intellectual pretensions, someone reaching for a ten-dollar word and getting it wrong when they would have been better off using something plainer. Of course, other politicians make gaffes, too. It’s just that this one reinforces all the negative perceptions of Palin that are already out there.
Well, now Sarah Palin has proved that she has something in common with a trouble-causing nine-year-old girl. That’s good to know. You might even say it’s terrifical.