Sluts are reappropriating language

June 5, 2011

Sluts are reappropriating language

The many SlutWalk rallies happening around the world this month have raised awareness about the insidious culture of victim-blaming that pervades society’s view of sexual assault.

Along with this important work has been a push to reclaim the word ‘slut’. Reclamation aims to remove the negative connotations of the word and reevaluate its place in our lexicon. Historically ‘slut’ has been used as a judgemental and damaging slur designed to shame women and men who enjoy sex, whether it’s for work or pleasure (or both). Its etymology also points to its past usage as a word meaning ‘dirty’ or ‘slovenly’. SlutWalkers are standing up to say that they’re not ashamed of their sexuality or liking sex, and that being a slut should not invite judgement or violence.

I’m a feminist and a linguist, so this idea of ‘slut’ reclamation is fascinating on both those levels. There’s been much debate online and offline about what it means to call yourself (or others) a slut, and about whether it’s possible to entirely reclaim a word and strip its negative or malicious intent and control.

The process of language reappropriation is one where a word was at one time a pejorative used to malign, control or victimise, is brought into acceptable (or even preferable) usage.

It’s not necessarily a straightforward process, but sluts everywhere should be heartened by the examples of other words successfully reappropriated so far in our social and linguistic history. There are some notable examples of reappropriated words and language in common usage: ‘gay’ was previously considered an insult but is now strongly favoured as the preferred term to describe homosexuality.

In Australia, ‘wog’ began as a racist term during the wave of Southern European immigration in the 50s and 60s. Through the phenomenon of Mediterranean-Australian performing artists taking ownership of the term “wog” its original pejorative nature has been defused, for example the Wog Boy films, the TV series Pizza (more on the ethno-Australian accent to come in a later blog post, methinks!). Similarly, ‘crip’ has been reclaimed by sections of the disabled community.

Let’s look at how exactly this semantic shift occurs. To reappropriate a word or phrase, a deliberate intervention is made into its common or hegemonic (for the cultural studies majors amongst us) usage. This common usage as a word of oppression, hurt or victimisation is challenged and reevaluated. The word may attain a neutral or acceptable connotation and become absorbed into broader cultural use. It may even attain a positive connotation within informed and aware groups.

Language reappropriation usually takes place within the oppressed community affected by the word’s original meaning. Often, use of the word outside that community retains its derogatory meaning. An example of this is the word ‘nigga’ – a still-controversial term reclaimed by parts of the African-American community, which is not generally accepted when it’s used by a person outside that community.

This remind us that we shouldn’t forget our ol’ friend context (as discussed by Lauren in a previous Superlinguo post) which plays a huge part in our linguistic interactions. Word meaning is decoded within a context – how it’s conveyed, by whom, when, where and why all have effects on the intent and receipt of a word.

The SlutWalks happening around the world are working as a deliberate intervention into the way the word ‘slut’ is used. Women and men are working to redefine a ‘slut’ as someone in control of their sexuality, who enjoys sex and who doesn’t invite sexual, physical or emotional violence by virtue of their promiscuity. Superlingo

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Scrabble approves selfie, te and bromance for dictionary

Associated Press in New York
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 August 2014 17.46 AEST
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To Scrabble fanatics, big gifts sometimes come in small packages.

The word “te” as a variant of “ti”, the seventh tone on the musical scale, is a hardworking little gem among 5,000 words added to the latest edition of The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. Continue reading

Slang shows us how language is always changing

Slang shows us how language is always changing
Michael SkapinkerBy Michael Skapinker
Pop stars regularly mix up their ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ – and earn far more than those who know where the apostrophe goes

Language! 500 Years of the Vulgar Tongue, by Jonathon Green, Atlantic, RRP£25, 432 pages
Odd Job Man: Some Confessions of a Slang Lexicographer, by Jonathon Green, Jonathan Cape, RRP£17.99, 336 pages
Simply English: An A to Z of Avoidable Errors, by Simon Heffer, Random House, RRP£14.99 pages
Plain Words, by Rebecca Gowers and Ernest Gowers, Particular, RRP£14.99, 320 pages
Jonathan Swift believed English needed an academy to stem the use of words such as “sham”, “banter”, “mob”, “bully” and “bamboozle”. Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, disliked “clever”, “fun” and “stingy”.

For centuries, English’s defenders have decried the language’s decline. Looking back, it is hard to understand why they created a fuss about words that are now part of polite speech. Sometimes the words that caused uproar, rather than being in general use, seem quaint and dated. Continue reading

Do grammar and spelling matter anymore?


Two of the three Rs are just not a priority anymore.

Here’s the great thing about Microsoft Word. That coloured squiggly line – the one that appears below words and sentences – is a useful warning sign, letting people know they’ve screwed up something. Sure, the software gets it wrong sometimes, but mostly it gets it right. Which is why it’s astounding errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation still saturate business communication.

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