Sum­mer’s top words

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - By STEPHANIE REITZ

MAYBE the lan­guage lovers who looked up “re­fu­di­ate” this sum­mer wanted to re­fute or re­pu­di­ate its ex­is­tence as a real word.

What­ever the rea­son, their cu­rios­ity made Sarah Palin’s not-quite-a-word Mer­riam-Webster’s “Word of the Sum­mer,” the one most of­ten searched by users of the pub­lisher’s on­line dic­tio­nary.

They didn’t find it, of course. The pseudo-word “re­fu­di­ate” isn’t in the dic­tio­nary and is not ex­pected to be added any­time soon.

That didn’t de­ter Palin when the for­mer Alaska gover­nor used it on a news show and in a Twit­ter mes­sage in July in place of re­fute or re­pu­di­ate, which have sim­i­lar mean­ings. Re­fute means to prove some­thing wrong or deny its truth or ac­cu­racy. Re­pu­di­ate means to refuse any con­nec­tion with some­thing or re­ject it as un­true or un­just.

“I think peo­ple im­me­di­ately knew what she was try­ing to say be­cause the words ‘re­fute’ and ‘re­pu­di­ate’ were also be­ing looked up very, very fre­quently,” said John Morse, Mer­riam-Webster’s pres­i­dent and pub­lisher.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing blend, but no, ‘re­fu­di­ate’ is not a real word,” he said.

But that could some­day change. Many of to­day’s ac­cepted words once were con­sid­ered strange hy­brids, too, in­clud­ing con­trap­tion (con­trivance plus trap and in­ven­tion) and splat­ter (splash and spat­ter).

Mas­sachusetts-based Mer­riam-Webster started track­ing trends on what news-driven words were looked up most fre­quently af­ter Princess Diana’s death. That’s when its editors no­ticed a spike in on­line searches for cer­tain words as­so­ci­ated with that event, such as pa­parazzi (ag­gres­sive pho­tog­ra­phers fo­cus­ing on celebri­ties) and cortege (a fu­neral pro­ces­sion).

It’s now able to track all searches on its web­site, nam­ing the top trend words of each year and an an­nual com­pi­la­tion of “new words” ac­cepted into the dic­tio­nary, such as blog and staycation.

“Re­fu­di­ate” is joined on this sum­mer’s list of top words by “in­cep­tion” and “de­spi­ca­ble,” for which on­line searches jumped im­me­di­ately as movies were re­leased with those words in the ti­tles. Some other of­tensearched words in­cluded “mora­to­rium,” “aus­ter­ity,” “op­u­lent” and “dop­pel­ganger.”

“Fru­gal” also made the list, re­flect­ing what Mer­ri­amWeb­ster edi­tor at large Peter Sokolowski de­scribed as “a word and sen­ti­ment of the moment for the coun­try.”

Some peren­nial puz­zlers like “irony” and the be­dev­il­ing duo of “af­fect” and “ef­fect” re­mained among Mer­riam-Webster’s most-of­ten searched words, though, and its editors don’t ex­pect that to change any­time soon.

Palin wasn’t the first to blend two words with a sim­i­lar mean­ing into one. Oth­ers have worked their way into the dic­tio­nary over time, such as “bold” and “au­da­cious” blend­ing to be­come “bo­da­cious” or “guess” and “es­ti­mate” be­com­ing “guessti­mate.” – AP

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