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Reclaimed Insults

The 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.

As an 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 accompanying madness.

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In 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.

To be 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.

The 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 group.
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.

The Insulting Overview

It 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.