|Syntactic Confectionery Delight|
No language advisory. None of the words I use are profane.
None of them succeeded in making those words stop being used as insults by people who hated them.
To the extent that this was ever the intention, quite true.
I forget the broader sociolinguistic term, but within the context of black history, this is known as "signifying". The black adoption of the word "nigger" (which I see no reason not to use in the context of our present discussion) as a term of approbation goes back a lot further than the 1960s. It was not a conscious effort to influence mainstream culture through language until much later (the '60s); I suspect, though I don't know, that this was the case with your other examples as well. Signifcation originally served (and arguably still serves) to build solidarity and morale.
I would say that, adapted for political ends, the phenomenon indeed had almost as little effect as later campaigns to "debunk stereotypes" and to promote various flavors of Newspeak.
I don't want to tread too far down this line, though. Political argument in the Chatterbox is one thing, but I'm afraid unvarnished opinions on such subjects are a dangerous thing here. Suffice it to say, I think we will profit not at all by renouncing the word "geek". Nobody will forget the word.
What we gain from the word "geek", is a sense of identity; and what other word suits? "Intellectual" and "hacker" both have rather specialized connotations; I identify with both, but many who presently call themselves geeks do not. And in any case, people today have chosen the word for themselves; geeks are a cultural reality, because they think they are. To deliberately eschew the word will not make anti-intellectuals stop using it as a pejorative... but it may isolate their victims.
Why not be bold, then? For my part, I'm a Scientific American-readin', code hackin', dyed-in-the-wool propellerhead. Geek is beautiful. Crank up the Devo, and bring out the polyhedral dice!
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