Words and their slippery, tentative hold on meaning.
It's become a common defense mechanism in our cultural discourse to adopt a derogatory term and wear it like a badge. We've become so adept at this that moments after Hillary Clinton uttered her linguistically unfortunate phrase "basket of deplorables," the world watched as Twitter feeds quickly propagated with new handles like "Deplorable Jess" as a sign of pride in the hate they both inspired and received.
We saw it last week with "pussy hats," too. A sort of pushback on who would ultimately own and determine the meaning of that word after Donald Trump's notorious bragging about sexual assault.
These attempts at language ownership by opposing groups are as old as time, and while they might not win any wars in and of themselves, they certainly have a track record of chiseling away at propaganda—or becoming their own.
Regardless of their ultimate efficacy, they can provide small moments of comfort through their signaling. Whenever I'm in Brooklyn, which is more and more often these days, Covenhoven has become my familiar place. A tiny home away from home. I respond instinctually to the people, the vibe, even the furniture there. And the beer list is always a thrill.
This past week I noticed one of those linguistic signals in the form of "snowflakes." I didn't need to be told I was among open and welcoming people. Or that this was a place where expressing hope for humanity would be welcome. Or that the neighborhood and community they served was diverse and tolerant. I'd already experienced that—it was self-evident. But the reminder was welcome all the same.