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Is there a word for when a derogatory title or form of address is used affectionately?

For example, nigger is highly offensive, but some friends address each other with that word.

Perhaps I'm thinking of a specific type euphemism.

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    Between friends, that's called teasing. Aug 7 at 22:15
  • I wouldn't call it teasing... I think it's used similarally to you calling your sister "Sis", I belive it designates a closer (and likely more intimate) relationship than "Friend" or "Sir" and not at all negative with this usage.
    – Bill K
    Aug 8 at 16:58

2 Answers 2

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I think you need dysphemisms

Dysphemisms involve the use of negative instead of positive expressions, although not all are intended to be rude. They can be used in an affectionate and light-hearted manner too, for example a parent calling her child rugrat or a wife her husband old man.(source)

Wikipedia even speaks about your example:

"Nigger" would typically be dysphemistic; however, if used between African-Americans it may be seen as neutral (although extremely casual) by the listener, depending on their social distance from the speaker and perceived status relative to the other party.

Dysphemisms are normally pejorative, but they can be used in familiar contexts affectionately. Thought.co explains:

Though often meant to shock or offend, dysphemisms may also serve as in-group markers to signal closeness.

Euphemisms and dysphemisms do have a similarity, but must not be confused:

Dysphemisms are often confused with euphemisms, but these two terms describe different figures of speech. They are similar in that both dysphemisms and euphemisms provide readers with an indirect way to describe something rather than using literal terminology. That's where their similarity ends. (YourDictionary)
(For more about the differences between the two see this.)

This other interesting site says

Euphemisms and dysphemisms can trade places, too. “Back to the grind” shows a negative feeling about returning to work or school, but the dysphemism turns into a euphemism when it’s said with a smile and tone of affection.


Just as a subjective aside that you are free to ignore, I will just add that this reminds me of what irony is:

the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. (OxfordL)

Using dysphemisms to convey not hatred or contempt, but on the contrary, affection and closeness, is like the reverse of irony.

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    WRT the example, the "hard R" makes a big difference in meaning.
    – shoover
    Aug 8 at 17:41
  • Dysphemisms may, indeed, sometimes be used 'in an affectionate and light-hearted manner', but that is not a part of the meaning of dysphemism. It is a broader concept than what the OP has in mind; what the OP is seeking is a single word that means specifically dysphemism-used-affectionately.
    – jsw29
    Aug 8 at 20:17
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In linguistics, reappropriation (also known as "reclamation" and "resignification") is when a group reappropriates words that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group. It's a form of semantic change and has implications that include claims of it being a means to personal and/or sociopolitical empowerment as those who've been addressed with that "derogatory form," as you put it, take ownership of it, reappropriating it as an appropriate form of address, though if not always appropriate for everyone to use when addressing them, then at least appropriate for themselves to use when addressing each other.

A few of other examples include:

  • f@g - reappropriated by the gay community, like when a gay man goes up to another gay man who's his friend and as a form of friendly greeting says, "What up, fag?"

  • b!tch - reappropriated by women, like when a woman goes up to her group of friends and excitedly and happily calls out to them, "Hey, b*tches!"

  • Mormon - originally a derogatory byname coined in the 19th century to call members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was then reappropriated by them in the 20th century, the church even doubling down on the reappropriation so as to take its derogatory power away by beginning a TV ad campaign that ran numerous ads throughout the 1970s and 1980s, TV ads at the end of which was always spoken the line, "Brought to you by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-- The Mormons," an ad campaign even dubbed "Mormon-ads" by the church, an interesting twist being that now with the church having quite effectively and soundly, via reappropriation, sapped all of the disparaging power out of its members being derogatorily "addressed" as "Mormon" or called "Mormons," it quite recently issued a statement to its membership and a public press release that it was disavowing the term, that it would no longer be using the term "Mormon" to mean a member of the church and that the term was to no longer be used to refer to its members, neither by its members nor by anyone else-- now how that will play out, whether or not the church doing that will lead to "Mormon" once again gaining power as a disparaging term, it will be interesting to see as it's the only incidence of reappropriation I know of where it was then un-reappropriated.

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    Worth noting that not every affectionate use of a derogatory word involves reclaiming a slur – the example that came to mind for me was the way many Australians use the word 'c*nt' among friends.
    – dbmag9
    Aug 8 at 12:21
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    To that list, you might add "Yankee", originally used as an insult by the English against the American colonists, now used with pride in several popular nationalistic American songs, not to mention the baseball team. The original insulting version is still around in parts of the world, but in the US, it's mostly been reappropriated. Aug 9 at 13:19
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    See also the survivors of the British Expeditionary Forces in WW1 who referred to themselves as "The Old Contemptibles" (because the Kaiser apocryphally referred to them as "a contemptible little army") Aug 9 at 13:56
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    @dbmag9 Also some Australians would address a British friend by saying "How are you doing you pommy bastard?" in a very affectionate way.
    – BoldBen
    Aug 9 at 14:12

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