Sarah Palin has brought herself attention recently by following in the footsteps of George Bush: By mashing two words together. Specifically, she tweeted that peaceful Muslims ought to refudiate something or other with regards to the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York.

This got me wondering about the two words that she’d apparently mashed together, refute and repudiate, which have vaguely similar meanings. Also, it’s worth pointing out that “f” and “p” are sometimes related historically (for instance, pipe and fife are related; cf. German Pfeife), so it’s not completely random that someone would confuse (compute?) the two words.

Both of these words are interesting for a few reasons. First, they represent cranberry morphemes: Neither fute nor pudiate are words in their own right.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, fute only occurs elsewhere in English in confute; the Latin source is futare, “to beat.” Meanwhile, the similar-sounding words refuse and confuse come from a verb form of Latin fundere, “to pour”: Meaning that confuse and confound are closely related, while confute isn’t related to either. Isn’t Latin fun?

Pudiate comes from Latin pudium, which (per the Online Etymology Dictionary) may be related to the foot (Latin ped, Greed pod, cf. English podiatrist). It appears to be a total cranberry morpheme, in that it doesn’t appear in any other words (such as *compudiate).

These words also use the prefix re- meaning “away” or “back” rather the more expected “again.” The former meaning of re- is common enough, though. Here are some pairs, where re- means “away” or “back” and con- means “with”:

  • Refute/confute
  • Revoke/convoke
  • Refuse/confuse
  • Refund/confound
  • Restrain/constrain
  • Remit/commit

The last example demonstrates another interesting pattern shown in the Latin prefixes con- and in-: Assimilation with the following consonant. Specifically, English inherited the following rules from Latin.

  • Before p, b, and m, use im- and com-: Im-portant, im-bibe, im-mortal, com-pose, com-bine, com-mute
  • Before l, use il- and col-: Il-licit, col-lect
  • Before r, use ir- and cor-: Ir-reverent, cor-rect
  • Otherwise, use in- and con-: In-tensive, in-ane, con-flate, con-sanguine, in-con-gruous

Going back to the original confounded confusing conflation, refute derives from “beating back” while repudiate derives (perhaps) from “kicking back,” not wholly unrelated concepts, certainly conceptually closer than their modern English descendants.

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