No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dam*ing Palin and Coining New Words

Earlier today I got to have a Sarah Palin moment.

Anyone that's spent time around me much in the last two years, knows how irritated by the Sarah Palin phenomenon I've been. Being from Alaska, having met the woman, and knowing the places she's from, there are times when I feel like I can see right through both her bullshit, and also the ways she's been misunderstood on the national stage. It was interesting for me during her candidacy to watch the ways she was described in the national media, or that ways she behaved were responded to. Because being someone from Alaska that has now lived "abroad" in the rest of the United States for quite some time (the contrast between Alaskan life and continental-U.S. really does feel like being in a foreign country), I had the luxury of understanding how what she was doing made real rational sense in the place she was from, and also why it still looked bat shit crazy in her now much larger national context.

Honestly, I have no sympathy for her now that she's clearly chosen to pursue her national spotlight post-McCain kaffafel. But, I've also gotten more comfortable with the idea of referencing her (though still mostly ironically). For a while, I'd very angrily tell friends that brought her up that, dammit, she was on the NO TALK list. Mostly, I've moved on from there. Still, I have no desire to discuss her various merits or foibles here.

Then WTF? Why do I bring up Palin at all? I have to reference her recent recogition by the people of Oxford Dictionary in having generated the "Word of the Year." Her use of the coined-by-her word "refudiate" in a twitter message last year (that she then immediately deleted out of embarrassment over the fact that IT IS NO WORD AT ALL, and replaced with the word "refute", which admittedly IS IN FACT A WORD but MADE NO BLEEP DAMN SENSE IN THE CONTEXT IN WHICH SHE WAS USING IT) garnered her inclusion in Oxford's practice of indoctrinating newly minted, but somehow appropriately evocative terms.

Oxford's explanation of taking up the new concept was based in the process they found implicit in the coinage. They took her made up expression to be a combination of "refute" and "repudiate" that somehow captures the meaning of both words in a context where neither would be adequate on their own. Um, really? (...insert pause here) Two words that are not appropriately meaningful on their own to the idea being expressed, when combined into a made up non-sensical could actually sense making make anew? ...Well, okay then. It's an incredible power when someone has the ability to do THAT.

So, getting back to my original comment--earlier today I got to have a Sarah Palin moment. I attended a presentation given by a colleague on campus here that was discussing the idea of dignity and Indigenous rights. Afterwards during the discussion session I responded to his interesting talk by suggesting that a brief comment he made about the role justice played in the question of Indigenous peoples and nation-state laws could be expanded to give further insight into the question of this relationship. I took a few minutes to consider the way in which Justice is often understood as a matter of individual rights versus overall good, but that theorists like Iris Marion Young expand our understanding of justice to say that individual rights operate in conjunction with group dynamics as well. That it is only in examining the way in which justice depends upon individual rights in conjunction with group dynamics that we can more clearly understand the various intricacies of a just society. The point I was making was simply that such a distinction seems especially important in terms of understanding an idea like Indigenous rights, since there is a critical element of group politics operating there.

Afterwards a man that had also been in the audience made a point of introducing himself to me. Our conversation included merely my responding to his "hello" by offering my name, and then answering his question of why I happen to be here on campus for the year. Then he looked at me sideways with a smile in his eye and asked, "Are you Narragansett?"

Honestly, I'd never heard the word before but in the context understood he was asking me my tribal affiliation. I paused for a second scanning my memory for what I guessed was a tribal name and then responded, "no, actually, I'm from Alaska. Aleut and Inupiat."

Gratefully, my referencing the home state of the current head nut job of the so-called Tea Party did NOT make him reference her. Instead he moved on to explain why he'd asked.

"Ah!" He said. "Well, I didn't mean it as an insult." (Which, honestly I thought was an odd thing for him to say. I hadn't taken it that way. But perhaps my pause misled him.) "I meant it as a compliment, actually. You have a VEROCITY to you that is very much like the women of the Narragansett. You don't mess with any of them." Then he smiled again, explained it was nice to meet me, and walked away.

You don't mess with any of them... Well, that would imply you don't mess with me either. Huh. I talk about justice. I give him my name, and it turns out that's intimidating enough to garner a "you don't mess with me" name plate to put above my door like New Hampshire's frame around their license plate, but not intimidating enough to keep him from meeting me. Interesting such people are. (Honestly, maybe I should find a "You don't mess with me!" sign to always hang in my office where ever I may go?)

I stood there for a minute. Huh. I have a verocity about me, he said. A verocity. I honestly don't know what that means.

But then I remembered the Sarah Palin power, and its celebration by the now clearly nutbag crazy Oxford English Dictionary and realized what he was saying to me. It's not that the Narragansett women and I just have veracity, oh no, that would not be enough, though we DO have that. We do have an ability to see and tell the truth. We also have ferocity. (That's right. We are FEROCIOUS, Mo-Fo!) In fact, we have veracity and ferocity in a way that is so simultaneous and intertwined with each other that we have a presence that can only be described as kind of newish-like and wild. We have verocity. We are simultaneously truth-seeing, truth-speaking, and ferocious in it.

Compliment indeed! Baby, that's powerful. I've decided to own it. I want a shirt that says, "Baby, I'm verocious!"

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