Reappropriate

Reappropriate and its noun reappropriation are so new that some dictionaries don’t list them. And because spell check doesn’t approve of reappropriate and its derivatives, many writers place an unnecessary hyphen after the first syllable—re-appropriate. But re- is the type of prefix that can be attached without a hyphen to virtually any verb, and reappropriate is a perfectly good form.

Reappropriate has two main meanings. First, it means to appropriate again, as with funds that are taken from one purpose and set apart for a different one. Second to, reappropriate is to appropriate something pejorative and make it positive. For example, same gays and lesbians have reappropriated the slurs fag and dyke (and gay itself is a reappropriation), some people within American hip-hop culture have reappropriated nigga, and tech-savvy sci-fi aficionados have reappropriated the originally pejorative words nerd and geek.

Such reappropriated terms are usually best avoided by anyone outside the reappropriating groups, though many reappropriated terms eventually lose their negative connotations and become safe for everyone to use. That has arguably happened with nerd and geek but not the other examples we mentioned.

Examples

A number of SlutWalkers have been adamantly pushing to reappropriate the word slut, or redefine it through repeated use. [Time]

That project, however, never came about and the money has since been reappropriated to Washington Street. [Peoria Journal Star]

It’s enough to make one sentimental for English reappropriation of the “refudiate” kind. [Guardian]

The Queer Arts Festival opens Tuesday with an emphasis on reappropriating “queer” so it carries a positive punch. [Vancouver Sun]

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