rebuttal, the verb

Heard from a guy in the restaurant Gordon Biersch on 3/24/12:

Then I rebuttaled with …

This is the verbing rebuttal, instead of the verb rebut. The question is, how/why did it arise?

First observation: there are a respectable number of occurrences of the verb (though it isn’t in the OED or other standard dictionaries). A few examples with rebuttaled apparently quite close in meaning to rebutted:

Former New York Times developer who worked there for seven years, Michael Donohoe, rebuttaled the assumptions in Rutledge’s redesign through a post on Hacker News. (link)

These are questions addressed by psychological egoism, the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest. Arguments in support of this view are powerful and not easily rebuttaled. (link)

You are dishonest, Cmike, and you have lost this debate. You have been repeatedly and convincingly rebuttaled with current, object, honest evidence that completely gutted whatever you posted. (link)

No doubt most of the occurrences of this type came from people who simply picked up the usage from others. And the innovators? Quite likely they were much more familiar with the noun rebuttal ‘refutation’ than with the verb rebut and created a verb on the basis of the noun, carrying over the semantics of the noun.

Second observation: there are a fair number of instances of rebuttaled that look less specific than rebutted, for instance:

… stop obsessing over things. You stated your opinion, perhaps someone disagreed, you rebuttaled, end of discussion. (link)

Hey, I rebuttaled to your post, please take a look! (link)

This  morning she told me it was one of the best concerts she has ever been to, to which I rebuttaled “Coldplay are the most boring band on earth who exsist soley to keep boring nerdy univesity students company” (link)

Here, rebuttaled seems to convey something like ‘replied negatively, disagreed’ — and in fact some of these uses have the syntax of replied (notably, “I rebuttaled to your post”) rather than that of rebutted. Where could that come from?

Well, the noun rebuttal has extended its meaning from a core meaning closely tied to the verb rebut — ‘a refutation, a counter-argument or contradiction’ (OED3, June 2009) — to uses close to the noun reply, but with negative affect. Meanwhile, the verb rebut has stuck closer to ‘refute, disprove’, with the result that even if you know and sometimes use rebut, you might find the need for a verb that carries over the looser sense of the noun rebuttal — something like ‘provide a rebuttal, that is, a negative reply, to’ — and for this a verbing of the noun rebuttal will fill the bill.

So you can come to the verb rebuttal for semantic reasons.


3 Responses to “rebuttal, the verb”

  1. Chris Ambidge Says:

    shouldn’t “rebuttaled” be spelled “rebuttalled”, with a double-L? The first version looks like an echo of “kidnaped”

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The doubling is optional in words with unaccented final syllables, though some style sheets insist on one spelling or the other. In some words, like travel, the doubled spelling is general in BrE, while the single spelling is common in AmE.

  2. Mark Miglio Says:

    Thank you, Arnold. Very helpful on both matters above.

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