twentieth century brought about unprecedented social and
economic growth. Accompanying this growth, in an unusual and
empowering twist, many former insults have been reclaimed, and
are now regarded in an positive way. Reclaimed insults are not
limited purely to word choices. In fact, they can apply to
entire social groupings that, in past centuries, could not be
mentioned in so-called ‘polite’ company.
example, there is now a self-proclaimed queer movement, when
approximately forty years ago ‘queer’ was considered to be a
derogatory term. Other examples include the reclamation of
certain movie titles. The 1938 film “Reefer Madness,” a film
intended to portray the consequences of marijuana use, spawned
an entire cult of aficionados who proudly cite their affinity
for the “reefer,” of the title, if not necessarily the
fact, a whole host of formerly negative terms, including
“bad,” “wicked,” and “sick,” have, at one time or another
become representative of people or items of quality.
Admittedly, “wicked” tends to be used as an adjective, and is
rarely used purely on its own, but its intended effect is to
heighten, and not detract, but the word it is modifying.
publicly identified as an actor was, as late as the middle of
the eighteenth century, a mark of poor social class. Now
actors are some of our highest paid members of society, with
several going on to attain the highest levels of political
office. Two hundred years ago, if a man running for president
had been ‘accused’ of being an actor, he could have very well
sued for libel.
broader idea of reclaimed insults has an interesting
side-effect when applied to social class. Poverty, an
undesirable and frequently insulted condition, has
inadvertently spawned some of the most sought after cultural
trends which have been deemed as “cool” by the arbiters who
decide these sorts of things. The 1980’s in the United States
witnessed a fetishization of “street” culture as being
particularly desirable, or at least the manifestations of
slang and perceived “toughness” that the middle and upper
class deemed to be attractive. Young adolescents in suburbs
who would have never imagined traveling into the inner cities
began to outwardly adopt the slang, lingo and dress of their
inner city contemporaries, in what a few years earlier would
have been roundly mocked and insulted by their suburban peer
Certain xenophobic concepts have also changed over time.
Products manufactured in China or Japan, while once derided
and insulted by a post-war American audience, are now accepted
and considered to be of quality.
could be said the insult is in the eye of the beholder.
Insults, after all, take two people to function; the insulter,
and the insulted. Many insulters develop a special
relationship with favorite targets over time. Don’t let
yourself become a victim! Whether you are a child, an
adolescent, or an adult, the easiest way to defend yourself
against modern day insults is simply to not be insulted.