As in "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad."
January 16, 2011 2:29 PM   Subscribe

What is the name for the linguistic phenomenon in which a word is used colloquially to mean something in direct opposition to its original meaning? "Bad" is the most striking example, but others would include "nasty," "sick," and "wicked."

I'm not even sure how I'd search for this, so, your help is appreciated.
posted by Busoni to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Paquda at 2:32 PM on January 16, 2011

posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:38 PM on January 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Start by doing searches for "linguistic reappropriation". Most of your results will be about "reclaiming" epithets like "nigger" and "cunt", but if you dig deeper than I just have, you'll find a more precise answer to your question.
posted by pecanpie at 2:39 PM on January 16, 2011

EndsofInvention is wicked smaht!
posted by pecanpie at 2:42 PM on January 16, 2011

Semantic inversion works too, though most of the links I'm pulling up talk specifically about its use in African-American English and/or hip hop. Here's a PowerPoint that discusses its use in slang.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:43 PM on January 16, 2011

Response by poster: Antiphrasis might just be what I'm thinking of, although I'm not so sure the examples I named are used ironically. I'm thinking of a term that a professor in college mentioned to illustrate this thing, and it was probably Greek, but I've forgotten what it was. (On further reflection I guess I could have put this in the question itself.)
posted by Busoni at 2:51 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Amelioration" is the semantic process by which words with negative meanings acquire neutral and positive connotations. It's the opposite of pejoration. Another term in the same ballpark is "contronym," a word that acquires a meaning that is the exact opposite of one it had at some earlier time: consider manufacture, which at one point meant to make by hand.

But those two terms still don't really capture the ad hoc tendency of using "bad" words approvingly. The above terms come from historical linguistics, and your phenomenon is closely tied to contemporary culture. Maybe someone better read in sociolinguistics can suggest a better answer.
posted by Nomyte at 2:52 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

oppositional slang
posted by amyms at 7:01 PM on January 16, 2011

Isn't that just...irony?
posted by Fuego at 7:35 PM on January 16, 2011

(IANA linguist.) It's a form of verbal irony, too.
posted by gingerest at 7:43 PM on January 16, 2011

posted by bardic at 9:33 PM on January 16, 2011

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