UPDATE: (05/25/17)

One word that was suggested was "own". While not perfect, it is close. Some more examples it made me think of to illustrate what I mean by flipping something negative into a positive:

  1. Metallica's Jason Newsted's famous reply to the criticism that Metallica were "sell-outs":

"Yes, We Sell Out --- Every Seat In The House" Jason Newstead, VH1's Behind The Music, 11-1998

  1. Or African American's taking back "nigger" by changing it to "nigga", and using it to mean something like 'friend' or 'comrade'.

  2. Or "dude" meaning young men in the 1800's concerned with keeping up with the latest fashions (what might today be called metrosexual), implying that he was a sissy or wuss. Dude was reclaimed over time and in the 70's meant just a normal guy, and now today it can mean just a person (referring to any gender).

  3. Geek. Used to be an insult in the 50's indicating somebody that is studious but weak, low social skills, and possibly unkempt. Today it just means anyone who is an enthusiast of something, especially electronics, computer, or programming related.

  4. Hippy. Used to be derogatory to mean what today is called a 'poser' in the 1950's. Hepsters/Hipsters were the legitimate cool folks, and hippies were the pretenders. Now hippy just means someone with long hair or someone who is very spiritual or loving in nature.



What is a good concise term for the act of converting the meaning/connotation of a social stigma into something perceived as positive?


Ex. 1: Clerks II

In the Movie "Clerks II", the character of Randal uses the racial slur "porch monkey" (which I only know is a racial slur because the movie told me. I've never heard the term before then, and I suspect a nice section of the country may also be in that boat of ignorance), but he doesn't realize it is a racial slur. Offended by others taking umbrage and acting hostile about his ignorance, Randal suggests that the term can be reclaimed and saved. He believes it should mean something more positive like "lazy people" instead of "lazy black people".

Clerks II: Randal and Dante in Mooby's restaurant

Since when was "Porch Monkey" a racial slur? - YouTube

That is one example of what I mean by "reclamation", although fictional. But, I think it illustrates the point.

Ex. 2: Pink Triangle

Another would be the infamous Pink Triangle (Wikipedia). This was a symbol the Nazis used in WWII to brand homosexuals in concentration camps as a badge of shame. But, in the 1970's the symbol was adopted by the gay pride movement and changed into something positive. This is a real example of the kind of reclamation I'm referring to.



  1. Is there an all-encompassing term that is "#soundbiteable" or "#hashtagable" -- a simple phrase that explains it concisely and clearly -- to describe reclaiming or reversing the meaning or connotation of a once derogatory term, thing, action, or condition?

  2. What the heck is a nig-nog? Is the term even real, or was it made up as a device for the movie?

  3. And what is sheeny? Is that a real term? I'm from Iowa, if these terms are real, they are not popular in Iowa and I'd never heard them until the movie.

Any help is appreciated

  • You have the term already: "reclaiming". Commented May 25, 2017 at 18:44
  • 1
    "Sheeny" is a pejorative term for a Jew, although it's somewhat dated. english.stackexchange.com/questions/175697/… Commented May 25, 2017 at 18:45
  • 1
    @EllenSpertus Thanks for your answer. Unfortunately, the word "reclaiming" is not clear enough and wouldn't be good for Googling. It is like the the word "unpacking" or "lens". They may be commonly accepted jargon in the social science communities, but those words have multiple meanings, making the terms ambigous. However, "gay pride", for instance, is a phrase that is clear (although it has nothing to do with the answer I'm seeking) and has little chance of being confused with some other term. Adding sources that show this is an actual word used in the context I mentioned would help. Commented May 25, 2017 at 18:56
  • @EllenSpertus Thanks for the link on sheeny. It is helpful in showing that there is no clear etymology, but that the word was popular in the late 1800's. We may then deduce that it fell out of common usage sometime between then and now. Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:08
  • "embrace" is sort of like "own" and while less idiomatic than "own" it suggests a ~pulling in~ . Certainly someone might embrace a nickname. I know you're looking for something more of a "flip" so I won't suggest this as an answer in itself.
    – Tom22
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 22:08

2 Answers 2


The term I hear most often nowadays is "own."

[some persecuted group] has now owned [some derogatory epithet for that group].

If one hears, for example, homosexuals using, among themselves, the word "queer" to refer to themselves, one can say that they have owned the term and no longer fret about its use; and in so doing, they have deprived their enemies of a weapon.

  • Yes, that is very close. But what I'm searching for is to see if there is a specific non-ambiguous term. I'll keep trying. Maybe is there was something like a portmanteau like "reown" or "repown"? Maybe I should coin those words here and now ... Trademarked! (j/k) Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:10
  • Being that nothing better has shown, your offering of "own" was closest and even though it's not THE answer I am looking for, enough time has passed, so I have marked it as the answer. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 10:28

I first thought of transvaluation (and the related verb transvaluing), which I associate with a book by Nietzsche. I would have said that Nietzsche coined the term; this article also gives that impression.

In On the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche explicitly states the project of such a genealogy, or history of morals, and writes about the “need” for a transvaluation, which he defines as a “critique of moral values, the value of these values themselves must first be called in question...

But of course Nietzsche wrote in German; perhaps an English translator introduced the English word?

I guess that words like "perverting" or "corrupting" are bad choices for you because you also want to express your own approval of those things that (you're saying) others appreciate?

All the world's efforts against the "aristocrats," the "mighty," the "masters," the "holders of power," are negligible by comparison with what has been accomplished against those classes by the Jews--the Jews, that priestly nation which eventually realised that the one method of effecting satisfaction on its enemies and tyrants was by means of a radical transvaluation of values, which was at the same time an act of the cleverest revenge. Yet the method was only appropriate to a nation of priests, to a nation of the most jealously nursed priestly revengefulness. It was the Jews who, in opposition to the aristocratic equation (good = aristocratic = beautiful = happy = loved by the gods), dared with a terrifying logic to suggest the contrary equation, and indeed to maintain with the teeth of the most profound hatred (the hatred of weakness) this contrary equation, namely, "the wretched are alone the good; the poor, the weak, the lowly, are alone the good; the suffering, the needy, the sick, the loathsome, are the only ones who are pious, the only ones who are blessed, for them alone is salvation--but you, on the other hand, you aristocrats, you men of power, you are to all eternity the evil, the horrible, the covetous, the insatiate, the godless; eternally also shall you be the unblessed, the cursed, the damned!"

From The Genealogy of Morals, by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

So it seems to me that Nietzsche is imagining just the exchange you describe in your comment. Someone called someone “wretched, poor, weak and lowly,” and that was meant as a disparaging negative term, and someone said "Damn-right he’s wretched, poor, weak and lowly!" And then over time people began to accept the terms wretched etc. as something positive. Nietzsche is commenting on this conversation, “He has transvalued those formerly derisive terms.”

Of course none of this is meant to endorse Nietzsche's actual point about the Jews and genealogy of morals. Nor do I mean that anyone would understand you if you started using the word transvalued, or that the word will earn you street cred like "own" or "embrace" might. But it does still seem to me that transvalued fills the bill.

But, you know...

  • Not quite. Interesting discussion though. What I am after is lets say somebody called you a pig and that was meant as a disparaging negative term. If you said "damn-right I'm a PIG!" and then over time people began to accept the term pig as something positive, the verb that describes that process exactly is what I'm looking for. It's nothing generic like "transformation" or "evolution" either. Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:13
  • @Eric Hepperle - CodeSlayer2010 I've edited my answer to reflect your comment.
    – Chaim
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 15:39
  • Thanks for the edits. They have added commentary that helps me understand your answer. Now I can see how the concept of transvaluation may be a very close cousin of who I'm Commented May 26, 2017 at 20:30
  • ...the phrase I'm looking fot Commented May 26, 2017 at 20:31

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