Monday, September 13, 2010

Sarah Speak

It's not often that you find Sarah Palin, Shakespeare and the Merriam Webster Dictionary all mentioned in the same breath.

But that's what happened recently when the former Alaska governor and potential Republican presidential candidate drew the ire of the grammar cops (and her political opponents) when she used a mystery term in a text message.

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

Peaceful Muslims can't refudiate, however, because there's no such word.

We can assume that Ms.Palin somehow mixed "refute" and "repudiate" to coin a new word, as in "I refudiate Tea Party philosophy."

The result is that "refudiate" quickly led to more searches on the Merriam Webster online dictionary than any real words in circulation.

But Sarah didn't bat an eye. "'Refudiate,' `misunderestimate,' `wee-wee'd up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"

Remind me not to play Scrabble with her.

Perhaps it was an incident that is, as her fellow word coiner Shakespeare wrote, "full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

Except that verbal miscues follow politicians around like lost puppy dogs. Often, history remembers not how they walked the walk but how they talked the talk.

Mention former Vice President Dan Quayle and what do you remember?

That at 33, he was the youngest person ever elected to the Senate from Indiana? And reelected by the largest margin in state history?

Nope. What we remember about Quayle is his foot-in-mouth disease ("The holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. ... No, not our nation's, but in World War II. I mean, we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century, but in this century's history.") or "I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future"). Or "I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people."

Speaking of vice presidents, how has Joe Biden performed his duties? We're not really sure but we do know he is a one-man gaffe factory. Examples: "Stand up, Chuck, let `em see ya." Biden, to Missouri state Sen. Chuck Graham, who is in a wheelchair. Or "If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there's still a 30 percent chance we're going to get it wrong." Or Joe on Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

While we are on the subject, a few more personal favorites:

"What right does Congress have to go around making laws just because they deem it necessary?" - Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington, D.C.

"I've looked on many women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times. God knows I will do this and forgives me." - President Jimmy Carter, in an interview with Playboy one month prior to the 1976 election.

"People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got." - Richard Nixon at a Nov. 17, 1973 news conference.

"Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?" - George W. Bush, Jan. 11, 2000.

"This was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in." - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, rewriting history while speaking at a Connecticut fundraiser about the war in Afghanistan, which President Bush launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks (July 2, 2010).

"It depends on what the meaning of the words `is' is." - Bill Clinton, during his 1998 grand jury testimony on the Monica Lewinsky affair.

"Facts are stupid things." - Ronald Reagan, at the 1988 Republican National Convention, attempting to quote John Adams, who said, "Facts are stubborn things."

"My answer is bring `em on." - President George W. Bush, challenging militants attacking U.S. forces in Iraq, July 2, 2003.

"Byaaaahhhhhh!" - Howard Dean, 2004.

So Sarah Palin is in pretty good company, Indeed, she is popular with the public, is raising cash by the bucketful and has momentum, yet polls show most Americans don't think she's qualified to be president.

That's because she may think like Reagan but she talks like Quayle.

If she wants to succeed, she had better "refudiate" her speech writers and start making sense to all Americans.

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