Wrangling over terminology and nomenclature is a good part of what goes on in the culture wars. For he who controls the terms of the debate controls the debate. What I call semantic rehabilitation is one side of this.
'Gaffe,' for example, has a negative connotation. It refers to to a social or political blunder or misstep, a faux pas, a noticeable and usually embarrassing mistake. A recent example is Gary Johnson's query, "What's Aleppo?" which betrayed his ignorance of the fact that Aleppo is a city in Syria as opposed to, say, one of the Marx brothers. (Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo, Chico . . . Aleppo!)It is perhaps not all that surprising that a Libertarian who favors marijuana legalization and a non-interventionist foreign policy would not know about Aleppo.
Semantic rehabilitation involves taking a word or phrase with a negative connotation and giving it a positive one. This morning I noticed at a couple of lefty sites the following definition of 'gaffe': "a statement that's politically damaging precisely because it's true." The authors were referring to Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" smear.
But of course that is not what 'gaffe' means. Meaning, however, is fluid, tied as it is to use. So if our lefty pals can make their mischief stick, they will have (a) narrowed the meaning of 'gaffe' and (b) given it a positive connotation.
What is the opposite of semantic rehabilitation? Whatever we call it, it is illustrated by the fate of 'checkered past,' which has come to possess a negative connotation as I demonstrate in A Checkered Past.