One of the things that has always fascinated me is how words change their meaning with time.  There was a time when gay meant happy, now it means “bend over for the scoutmaster.”  But the word changes that most interest me are the negative words that become positive.  Let me give you an example: decadent.

There was a time, not long ago in historic terms, that decadent and decadence were considered bad things.  They implied social and moral decay and good people were not supposed to like that sort of thing.  Then something happened.  Decadent became a very good thing, associated with comfort, pleasure and–chocolate.  Well, first the word became a joke.

You see, back in the 1930s-1950s the godless communists made a point of proclaiming that everything that they did not like was “decadent” and that included everything non-communists enjoyed, like chocolate.  And over-using the word backfired on them because every time they used it people just laughed at them.  It’s sort of like when people say “racist” now and everyone just pats them on the head and rolls their eyes.  The media bean counters still get perspirey, but no one else gives a damn. (Which is creating a fascinating cultural bifurcation and it will fun to see how that turns out.)  Well, someone in marketing got the idea to use the word decadent as a way of saying, “This is something that you will like,” and it caught on.  And before you could say “Capitalist running dog!” everything was decadent and people really liked being decadent and the word lost all its power, except as a marketing tool.

So now we get to see the same thing happen to deviant.  Deviancy has not been dumbed down, it has been transformed into something desirable.  Who does not want to be deviant, to defy norms and conventions?

It all brings us back to outlaw marketing.  Remember the old saying, “It is good to be hated by the hated?”  Well, the people who used the word deviant in a negative sense are hated, despised and ridiculed.  They tend to be church-goers so they deserve it.    So it would naturally follow that by associating with a word that is used by people your market dislikes, you will attract that market.

I wonder what word will be next.


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