News, Politics

Sarah Palin’s Refudiate Tweet Deeper Than Dialect

Andrew Belonsky :: Monday, July 19th, 2010 12:30 pm

Sarah Palin has been catching flack for using the word “refudiate” in a Tweet about a potential mosque at Ground Zero. For a woman with a string of gaffes, this comes across as just another of her many mistakes, and opponents are celebrating the former governor’s “stupidity.” They shouldn’t.

People should stop picking on Palin’s word choice for two reasons: first, her self-defense actually indicates a relatively intelligent reading of the English language, and, second, grammatical critiques distract from the issue at hand.

Those of you who have gone through liberal arts schools have no doubt waded through rivers of nonsensical words, like Louis Althusser’s “interpellation” or Judith Butler’s “subjectivating.” In fact, at the end of my senior year, having just completed a thesis and four years of almost completely theoretical training, I found myself absolutely maddened by academia’s dictionary of seemingly imaginary words.

After the post-grad angst subsided, I again realized my love for those terms, because, as Palin noted in her “refudiate” defense, “English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”

I won’t go so far as to compare Palin with the Immortal Bard. She is, however, definitely right in describing our language as “living.” In fact, she may have unwittingly waded into surprisingly astute intellectual territory. And considering Palin’s massive cultural influence, I have little doubt “refudiate” will soon enter our collective lexicon. Once again, the former Governor will have the last laugh. Great. Good for her. Until then, however, debate about Palin’s vernacular obscures the consequence of her remarks.

The instantly infamous tweet, which she has since removed, concerned the equally infamous mosque that may be built at Ground Zero. “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate,” wrote the reliably right wing Palin. Her assumption, then, is that people who support the mosque also support violence.

She perpetuated that idea in a follow-up message, “Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real,” and then again a third time, “Peace-seeking Muslims pls understand. Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.” Yes, she misused “refute,” which, as TPM’s Megan Carpentier points out, means to prove something false and doesn’t quite fit Palin’s context, but I, like everyone else, digress….

Palin’s assertion that only non-peaceful Muslims would support such a mosque perpetuates misconceptions about religious centers being terrorist hotbeds. One opposition group, “Stop the Islamization of America,” released a statement this year in which they equated the mosque with a plot to establish “political Islam and Islamic supremacism [sic] in New York.” Proponents argue that the mosque’s meant to bring people together, not tear them apart.

Palin’s remarks, or, rather tweets, further agitate the situation by aligning the mosque, and its supporters, with terrorism and hate, a dangerous dispatch from a powerful political player. And there’s no “refudiating” that.