There has been a movement in recent years wherein people of minority racial, gender, and sexual groups, who are often referred to in derogatory language, have chosen to turn those words around on their critics and reclaim them for a more positive use.
Taking these words back from the mouths of hateful people changes their nature. Within the communities that associate with the terms, the hurtful power of the word is diminished and thus reinvented as an acceptable way for people to identify and to empower themselves. Outside of these communities, the words may still be used with the intention to denigrate. Limr over on AsALinguist took the words straight out of my mouth in a great article titled Words We Cannot Say…Except When We Can:
[These groups] are making the argument that the power is not in the word itself but in the intention behind the utterances of those words. The word itself is just an arbitrary arrangement of sounds that, in and of itself, doesn’t signify anything at all. Words need intention and context to give them life.
The reappropriation of traditionally pejorative words is more widespread than one might think and it is not solely related to race or sexuality. For example, even “geeks” and “nerds” now wear those badges proudly! Prevalent examples of this phenomenon include “nigger”, “guido”, “dyke”, “queer”, and “bitch”.
Yes, “bitch”. Women in general are indeed a minority group, as defined from a sociological point of view. Sociologist Louis Wirth penned a widely accepted definition, which states that a minority is “a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.” Women certainly fall into this category, most prominently in the workplace. But I digress.
In part two of this article, which will follow shortly, I’ll address the defiantly reappropriated words that I associate with personally, including “slut” and “pervert”. Stay tuned!