Insults and Expiration Dates
Do certain insults have expiration dates? Is there a time when a once-offensive term ceases to be offensive because the derisive connotations have stopped operating on a popular culture level?
[Where this all came from...]
A few years back, there was a candidate running for student elections on a college campus. His name was Sam and he was running for student president under his own banner, instead of throwing his lot in with a bunch of other "government" hopefuls to run under a group banner. He made up a poster of his face Photoshopped onto Rambo's body and called himself "Sambo". A day or so later, the student body learned that Sam had to cease and desist with that particular poster because the term "Sambo" had come to be associated with a derogatory black caricature some time in America's past.
Obviously, he was just trying to be clever, invoking Rambo's machismo and pairing it with his name to promote himself as a man's man. Why, yes, he was a little on the skinny side; why do you ask?
I guess what I'm musing over is whether we should continue to remember the negative connotations and therefore keep considering a term off-limits or if we should let the derogatory nature of certain terms die out on their own as the language evolves and as pop culture discards certain characters/characteristics. I know of instances where a once-innocuous word developed a not-so-innocuous connotation ("f**got" and "dork" come to mind) and how they are accepted in modern, popular usage but what about the other way around? Can a word lose its offensive roots or connotations to become merely an innocent play on words or potentially an expression of affection? "Dragon lady" could just mean a woman who really likes dragons, right?
Sambo isn't all that esoteric or forgotten though...
There are nights when I think Sal Paradise was right, Boys and girls in America, have such a sad time together...