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In sociology and cultural studies, reappropriation or reclamation is the cultural process by which a group reclaims terms or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group.[1]


The term reappropriation is an extension of the term appropriation or cultural appropriation used in anthropology, sociology and cultural studies to describe the reabsorbing of subcultural styles and forms, or those from other cultures, into mass culture through a process of commodification: the mass-marketing of alternate lifestyles, practices, and artifacts.[citation needed]


A reclaimed or reappropriated word is a word that was at one time pejorative but has been brought back into acceptable usage, usually starting within the communities that experienced oppression under that word but sometimes also among the general populace as well.[1] (The term "reclaimed word" more often implies usage by a member of the group that is referred.)

That can have wider implications in the fields of discourse and has been described in terms of personal or sociopolitical empowerment.[2]

Reclaiming or reappropriating a word involves re-evaluating a term that is or was, in the dominant culture, used to by a majority to oppress various minorities of the same culture,[citation needed] such as "queer", once seen as pejorative but now reclaimed and used as a self-reference by some.[3][4]

Reclaimed words differ from general reclamation outside of language because of their deliberately provocative nature. In addition to neutral or acceptable connotations, reclaimed words often acquire positive meaning within the circles of the informed.[1] Outside the community, such transitions are rare. As such, the use of these terms by outside parties is usually viewed as strongly derogatory. For some terms, even "reclaimed" usage by members of the community concerned is a subject of controversy; for example, there is considerable debate within the transgender community over attempts to reclaim the term "tranny", usually applied offensively to trans women.[5][6][7]

Michel Foucault discusses the idea of reclaimed words as a "reverse discourse" in his History of Sexuality: Volume I.


Sex and sexuality[edit]

There are many recent English-language examples of some linguistic reappropriation in the areas of human sexuality, gender roles, sexual orientation, etc. Among these are:


However, the phenomenon is much older, especially in politics and religion.

In England, for example, Cavalier was a derogatory nickname reappropriated as self-identification,[12] while Roundhead, a Royalists derisory term for the supporters of the Parliamentary cause, is not (it was a punishable offence in the New Model Army to call a fellow soldier a roundhead).[13] Tory (orig. from Middle Irish word for "pursued man" Tóraidhe ), Whig (from "whiggamore" (See the Whiggamore Raid)) and "Suffragette" are other British examples.

The term Prime Minister was originally used disparagingly by Members of the British Parliament towards Sir Robert Walpole, whose official title was First Lord of the Treasury. Over time, the title became official and honorific.

In the American colonies, British officers used Yankee, from a term used by the British to refer to Dutch pirates, as a derogatory term against colonists. British soldiers created the early versions of the song "Yankee Doodle", as a criticism of the uncultured colonists, but during the Revolution, as the colonists began to reappropriate the label "yankee" as a point of pride, they likewise reappropriated the song, altering verses, and turning it into a patriotic anthem.[14]

In the 1850s in the United States, a secretive political party was derisively dubbed the Know Nothing party, based on their penchant for saying "I know nothing" when asked for details by outsiders; this became the common name for the party. It eventually became a popular name, sufficiently so that consumer products like tea, candy, and even a freighter were branded with the name.[15]

The Dutch and German languages actually have a separate word for such a term, "geuzennaam" (Dutch, commonly used) and "Geusenwort" (German, used among linguists). These words derive from the geuzen, i.e., Dutch opponents to Spanish rule in the 16th century, who eventually created the Netherlands under William of Orange. Being derisively called "beggars" ("gueux" in French of the era) by their opponents, they appropriated a Dutchified form of the word as their own "battle name". In French during the French Revolution the word "Sans-culottes" (literally "without knee-breeches", which were worn by the upper classes) gained a similar meaning.

The women campaigning for the vote in the early 20th century were known as "suffragists" until their opponents dubbed the more militant faction "suffragettes", intending it as a disparaging diminutive, but the Women's Social and Political Union embraced it.

More recent political examples include:


One of the older examples of successful reclaiming is the term "Jesuit" to refer to members of the Society of Jesus. This was originally a derogatory term referring to people who too readily invoked the name of Jesus in their politics,[citation needed] but which members of the Society adopted over time for themselves, so that the word came to refer exclusively to them, and generally in a positive or neutral sense,[16] even though the term "Jesuitical" is derived from the Society of Jesus and is used to mean things like: manipulative, conspiring, treacherous, capable of intellectually justifying anything by convoluted reasoning.[17][18][19][20]

Another example can be found in the origins of Methodism; early members were originally mocked for their "methodical" and rule-driven religious devotion, founder John Wesley embraced the term for his movement.[21]

Race and ethnicity[edit]

To a lesser extent, and more controversially among the groups referred to, many racial, ethnic, and class terms have been reappropriated:



  • "Autie" or "autist" by autistic people.[25]
  • "cripple", "crip", "gimp" by people with disabilities.[24]

Art movements[edit]

  • "Impressionists" In 1874 during their first independent art show, critic Louis Leroy penned a hostile review of the show in Le Charivari newspaper under the title "The Exhibition of the Impression-ists". In particular he used the painting Impression, soleil levant by Claude Monet to ridicule the painters for their lack of seriousness preferring to paint "fleeting impressions of the moment" rather than allegorical or ultra-realist themes.[26]
  • "Fauvists" at their first group exposition at the Salon d'automne of 1905, the critic Louis Vauxcelles, shocked by the wild colors and bold brushstrokes of their paintings disparaged the artists as a band of "fauves" (wild beasts)
  • "Decadent" by a late generation of Romantics, such as Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire, who used the word proudly, to represent their rejection of what they considered banal "progress"
  • Stuckism, formed in 1999 in opposition to conceptual art and the "ego-art" of the Young British Artists
  • Krautrock, originally a humorous term coined in the early 1970s in the UK, and initially used as a pejorative by the West German music press, later lost its stigma and is now also used as a self-description

Other examples[edit]

More generally, any kind of community can reappropriate words referring to them:

See also[edit]

  • Dysphemism treadmill, the process by which offensive terms can become acceptable without deliberate intervention.


  1. ^ a b c d Croom, A.M. (2011). "Slurs". Language Sciences. 33 (3): 343–358. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2010.11.005. 
  2. ^ Godrej, Farah (April 3, 2003). "Spaces for Counter-Narratives: The Phenomenology of Reclamation" (PDF). Paper prepared for the Midwest Political Science Association Meeting. University of Indiana. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-10-25. Retrieved July 25, 2011.  Citing Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 1991)
  3. ^ "queer". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2014. 
  4. ^ Queer Nation (June 1990). "Queers Read This". 
  5. ^ Cedar (November 10, 2008). ""Tranny" and Subversivism: Re-reclaiming "Tranny" (or not) part 1". Retrieved September 23, 2010. 
  6. ^ Cedar (January 8, 2009). ""Tranny" and Subversivism: Re-reclaiming "Tranny" (or not) part 2". Retrieved September 23, 2010. 
  7. ^ Snyder, Mark Daniel (February 3, 2009). "Tranny". Queer Today. Retrieved September 23, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Trademark Office says no to Dykes on Bikes". National Center for Lesbian Rights. 
  9. ^ "Facing Fury Over Antigay Law, Stoli Says 'Russian? Not Really'". The New York Times. September 8, 2013. Archived from the original on 2016. Retrieved September 27, 2016. 
  10. ^ "Get used to it - meaning and origin". The Phrase Finder. Archived from the original on 2016. Retrieved September 27, 2016. 
  11. ^ "We're here. We're Queer. Get used to it". NewsLaundry. August 15, 2016. Archived from the original on 2016. Retrieved September 27, 2016. 
  12. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Anonymous (1911). "Cavalier". Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). 
  13. ^ Worden, Blair (2009). The English Civil Wars 1640–1660. London: Penguin Books. p. 2. ISBN 0-14-100694-3. 
  14. ^ Okrent, Arika (5 Nov 2013). "Mystery Solved: The Etymology of Dude". Slate. The Slate Group,. Retrieved 10 Aug 2015. 
  15. ^ William E. Gienapp. "Salmon P. Chase, Nativism, and the Formation of the Republican Party in Ohio", pp. 22, 24. Ohio History, p. 93.
  16. ^ Pollen, John Hungerford (1913). "The Society of Jesus". Catholic Encyclopedia. 14. New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 30 November 2016. 
  17. ^ Peschier, D. (21 June 2005). Nineteenth-Century Anti-Catholic Discourses: The Case of Charlotte Brontë. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-230-50502-5. 
  18. ^ Stevenson, Angus (19 August 2010). Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. p. 940. ISBN 978-0-19-957112-3. 
  19. ^ Aikio, Annukka; Vornanen, Rauni (1982). Uusi sivistyssanakirja (in Finnish). Otava. 
  20. ^ March, Francis Andrew (1906). A Thesaurus Dictionary of the English Language Designed to Suggest Immediately Any Desired Word Needed to Express Exactly a Given Idea. Philadelphia, PA: Historical Publishing Company. p. 1089. 
  21. ^ Atkins, Martyn (2010). Discipleship... and the people called Methodists (PDF). The Methodist Church in Britain. p. 9. ASIN B006OA0XRU. Archived from the original (pdf) on 2015-03-15. be a ‘Methodist’ was originally a term of ridicule because of the zeal and rigour with which they pursued a life of holiness and sought to be the best disciples of Christ they could. 
  22. ^ For example, the band N.W.A., or the titles of several of Richard Pryor's recordings. Or listen to a wide range of 90's-2000's hip hop music.
  23. ^ For 18th century example of effort at such reappropriation in Ireland, see this example here
  24. ^ a b Disability Studies and the Inclusive Classroom: Critical Practices for Creating the Least Restrictive Attitudes p 48-50 By Susan Baglieri and Arthur Shapiro. Retrieved 2013-12-03. 
  25. ^ a b "Aspies and Auties". The New York Times. October 19, 2009. 
  26. ^ Cigainero, Jake (October 29, 2014). "Dating a Seminal Painting Paris Exhibition Traces Origins of Monet's 'Impression, Sunrise'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2014-11-15. Retrieved 2015-12-28. 
  27. ^ McKeown, Sarah (22 June 2009). "Ich bin ein Smoggy: reclaiming regional pride". Macmillan Dictionary Blog. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  28. ^ Lawson, Helen (21 March 2013). "Janoaworramean? Frustrated Teesside mother pens 'Smoggie dictionary' with translations into Standard English to help others understand her". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 29 September 2013.