term is an epithet
originally used in a derogatory
sense which acquires a neutral or even affectionate usage
when it is adopted (or co-opted
) by the people whom it used to demean
An uncontroversial example from history is the word, "Quaker." Originally a slur on the charismatic practices of the Religious Society of Friends, it has lost its offensive connotation.
More recent examples show that the process of reclamation is gradual and imperfect. Words like "queer" and "geek" have, by and large, lost the power to intimidate those beyond their teenage years. "Nerd" and "fairy", on the other hand, are more likely to be understood as insults. Context is key: Who is using the word and how are they using it?
The enduring hatred associated with "nigger", "fag" and "dyke" all but limit the reclaimed use of these words to self-reference. The issue is communication, not "Political Correctness". A token of hostility, barring some prior understanding, will be interpreted according its conventional sense.