Honors Program


Date of this Version

Spring 3-12-2018

Document Type



Baue, S. (2018). Ideographic analysis of Matal v. Tam: Freedom of speech, property, and reappropriation. Unpublished thesis.


Copyright Samuel Baue 2018


This rhetorical criticism analyzes the relationships between and use of the ideographs and in relation to the broad ideological commitment to preventing disparagement articulated in the Matal v. Tam Supreme Court decision. This analysis is intended to expand upon the work of rhetorical scholars to examine how ideographs are deployed in judicial discourse. Of particular concern is how the clarification of tensions between ideographs and their subsequent reframing within the Supreme Court decision allows for the phenomenon of reappropriation of disparaging terms. Specifically, by asserting the ideological preeminence of and intellectual ownership over the desire to prevent disparagement, the Supreme Court creates a legal avenue by which members of marginalized groups can own self-referential disparaging trademarks. Further, through ownership of these terms as intellectual, identification with the terms themselves, and the ability to control their commercial use, members of marginalized groups can reappropriate self-referential disparaging terms, instilling a sense of empowerment and mitigating these terms’ disparaging effects. However, this analysis also concludes that the ownership of disparaging trademarks is more accessible to the affluent, and could be used to further the disparagement of marginalized groups for profit.