There are precedents for such reclaiming—pejorative words like “queer” and even “slut,” for instance, which their targets have taken over and brandished with pride. But maybe a more apt comparison would be the word “nerd.” “Nerd” used to be a put-down—and it used to cover boys more often than girls. Like “bossy,” it wasn’t really that harsh, but it wasn’t nice, either. It actually had a gender dimension, too, because it called out brainy boys who were not athletic or aggressive. It was a dis of boys who lived in their heads and wore pocket protectors and ate their lunch indoors, playing chess. Just as “bossy” might be said to undermine female leadership, “nerd” might be said to have undermined male intellectualism.
But now “nerd,” and its close cousin “geek,” are words that lots of people are happy to identify with, humble-bragging about their obsessive expertise.
Update from a reader:
If you’re going to talk about the (mis)appropriation of “nerd,” you gotta include this Portlandia PSA; it’s weirdly heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time: