Reconceptualizing the Debate
Over Linguistic Reclamation
University of Colorado at Boulder
The debate over linguistic reclamation, the appropriation of a pejorative epithet by its target(s), is generally conceived of as a simple binary of support and opposition. I offer an alternative conceptualization that shows both the complex contrasts and commonalities within the debate. Specifically, I identify three perspectives: (1) that the term is inseparable from its pejoration and therefore its reclamation is opposed; (2) that it is separable from its pejoration and therefore its reclamation is supported; and (3) that it is inseparable from its pejoration and therefore its reclamation is supported. Additionally, by examining different goals within and across reclamations, I demonstrate the difficulty of assigning a fixed outcome of success or failure. Although the term queer serves as the primary case study, the terms black, nigger, cunt, and dyke supplement and expand the discussion from a specific study of queer to linguistic reclamation in general. 1. Introduction
Hate speech intended to disable its target simultaneously enables its very resistance; its injurious power is the same fuel that feeds the fire of its counter-appropriation. Laying claim to the forbidden, the word as weapon is taken up and taken back by those it seeks to shackle—a self-emancipation that defies hegemonic linguistic ownership and the (ab)use of power. Linguistic reclamation, also known as linguistic resignification or reappropriation, refers to the appropriation of a pejorative epithet by its target(s). The linguist Melinda Yuen-Ching Chen offers the following definition: “The term ‘reclaiming’ refers to an array of theoretical and conventional interpretations of both linguistic and non-linguistic collective acts in which a derogatory sign or signifier is consciously employed by the ‘original’ target of the derogation, often in a positive or...