Q&A: Is “refudiate” a word?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we're refudiated…

Q: Hi AWC, I have an easy one this week. Is “refudiate” a word? I heard someone on a podcast say it.

A: Do you believe everything you hear on podcasts?

Q: Of course not. Although there is another one I listen to that somehow knows I want to be a writer…

A: Well, it’s NOT a word. It’s likely they were trying to say “repudiate”. This kind of thing happens a lot.

Q: What kind of thing?

A: A word corruption formed by people taking two existing words and smashing them together.

Q: Is that like when I take two avocados and smash them together?

A: Um, sure. Just not as tasty.

Q: Gotcha.

A: In this case, we’re talking about the forbidden lovechild of “repudiate” and “refute”. Both words have similar meanings, although “repudiate” is more about rejecting or casting off something or someone, while “refute” is about denying or disproving something.

Q: Examples?

A: “Jack repudiated Jill’s attempts to claim Pailwater Hill as her own. He would later refute her report that he ‘fell’ and broke his crown, instead claiming that he was pushed.”

Q: Wow, hashtag conspiracy theory!

A: Nursery rhymes are brutal.

Q: What I never got is why Jack was wearing a crown. Surely royalty would just get a servant to fetch a pail of water, right?

A: No, your ‘crown’ is also a name for the top of your head. We’re guessing that “Jack fell down and cracked his skull open” wasn’t bedtime friendly.

Q: Fair enough. Also, what’s the difference between a pail and a bucket?

A: There isn’t really one. Both are cylindrical containers with a semicircular handle known as a ‘bail’. Pails are perhaps more associated with milk or water and can have a cover, while bucket is the more universal ‘catch-all’ term.

Q: Haha, catch-all. 

A: As a word, “pail” is simply not as common. 

Q: It “pails” in comparison?

A: Yes yes, very good.

Q: Not worth adding to my bucket list then?

A: Okay enough. We seem to have digressed…

Q: Ah yes! Where were we?

A: We were explaining how “refudiate” came to be. Its existence was helped along back in 2010, when US political figure Sarah Palin used it on Twitter and was subsequently publicly mocked for it.

Q: Wow, such simpler times. 

A: Indeed.

Q: And you’re sure it’s Sarah Palin, not Sarah Bucketin?

A: Hilarious. Palin’s gaffe was actually such a big deal that the American Oxford Dictionary created a new entry for it. They subsequently went on to name “refudiate” their word of the year!

Q: Oh my. What it must be like to have such a slow news year…

A: Exactly! It sure was a different world back in 2010.

Q: I’m not going to refudiate that…

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