There are some words or phrases that are socially acceptable for some groups to say, but not others. A famous example in American culture is the N-word, which is acceptable for blacks to say, but not other groups (sometimes this practice is referred to as "N-word privileges").

A film example of this type of word is in Gran Torino where two men uses racist slurs affectionately like "Pollack" and "Italian prick", then when the Hmong teenager thinks they want him to repeat it, they are very offended.


It doesn't have to be ethnic either. There are some women who are comfortable using the term "bitch" to refer to themselves and homosexuals comfortable using "fag", but they would not be acceptable things for others to say.

Is there a general, neutral term for this sort of word or phrase that is socially acceptable for some groups to use, but not others?

  • Asymmetrical taboo? Idk I'm just making things up Nov 22, 2016 at 6:16
  • Covert prestige is the closest I can think of... though doesn't capture this phenomenon exactly. Nov 22, 2016 at 8:17
  • related if not the same: note that "Black" is itself a prime example of the dynamics. Until the 1960s it was a derogatory term; then African-americans appropriated as a positive term. Ditto for "gay", "queer", etc. but to by our question, I'm not aware of a term like that in American English. it would be great if we had one. "In-group term"?
    – mobileink
    Nov 28, 2016 at 0:17

2 Answers 2


Since "reappropriation" or "reclamation" is the cultural process by which a social group reclaims terms that were used as a pejorative, one can call these words "reappropriated" or "reclaimed" words.

(Althoughts these terms are sociological rather than linguistical terms)

  • But have all words that fit this description been reclaimed? I think not Nov 24, 2016 at 7:38
  • From the question, the n-word, the b-word and the f-word mentioned would be. The examples in the film are of quite a different category - they only work because these guys know each other - they are not using these terms because they are in a particular group Nov 24, 2016 at 10:10

As an outsider (White) in a Black family for over 50 years, I can think of some like "that Negro", a put-down aimed at an African-American. But I would not use it myself because it is up to members of the group i.e. African-Americans, to decide the word is apt in a particular case. In contrast, the use of the word cat for a person, very common, is one I might use but it has no ethnic connotation to it, much like guy, and no judgment involved. I think asymmetry is a good word for this.

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