History of the Word “Gay”

milkboys History & People, Mixed & Random 7 Comments

The word gay has a long history in the English language, but why did gay stop meaning “happy” and start referring to same sex attractions?


Comments 7

  1. Interesting but her etymology of ‘gay’ is not quite complete.
    Until the late 15th century the word ‘girl’ simply means a child of either sex. Boys, where they had to be differentiated, were referred to as ‘knave girls’ and girls in the female sense were called ‘gay girls’. Equally a boy could be a ‘knave child’ and a girl a ‘maiden child’.
    The term ‘boy’ was reserved for servants or ‘churls’, the meaning ‘young man’ but not occurring before 1440.

  2. “Gay” as referring to homosexuals and homosexuality [primarily men] first gained increasing favor in the mid-1960s into the late-1960s, mostly around 1967-1969.

    What she alluded to by using the word code, was, in fact, the primary reason for using the word gay. It was so like-minded men could identity themselves and others without the gestapo … errr, police … knowing what was being said [meant] to avoid being arrested and having places where homosexuals (and bisexuals, lesbians) avoided being raided — which became quite common particularly during the 1960s. The most famous was the police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City.

    Along with “gay” as common code to represent the person and place, the word “trick” was used, again as code, to refer to the sexual acts between homosexuals. And, “chicken” was code for [younger/cute/smooth gays] — much like “twinks/ twinkies” are used today. There were a couple other words also used for “code” that I can’t remember about now as well. But those were the most popular.

    1. Correction: “Trick” wasn’t for the actual sexual acts, but instead for the person a gay person met and “went home with” or otherwise had a sexual encounter with. Sorry about that.

  3. Teaghan and Penboy’s comments were helpful. I have often wondered (without any evidence) whether “flamboyant” played any role in the etymology. Regardless I think the speaker in that tape spoke much too fast, as if she were reading a script and was already late for lunch.

  4. During the 50’s 60’s (at least in the UK) there was a whole sub-culture with it’s own language called Polari.

    Not only was Polari used to stop Police from knowing what’s being said, but also the general public. So it was common for like mind individuals to gossip on public transport about those around ’em.

    This coded means of talking also allowed you to find others. You say some Polari to them, if they fail to understand, you apologise and move on.

    Kenneth Williams with Hugh Paddick, brought Polari to the main stream with their Characters Julian and Sandy. First heard in the popular BBC radio show “Round the Horne”. Although Kenneth Horne was the star, Julian and Sandy characters became so popular they were given their own show: “Julian and Sandy”

    Many of the Polari words have crossed over to mainstream usage and are still used today (At least in the UK):

    bod body
    bold daring
    butch masculine; masculine lesbian
    camp effeminate
    carsey toilet, also spelt khazi
    chicken young man
    cottage public loo (particularly with reference to cottaging)
    cottaging having or looking for sex in a cottage
    dish an attractive male; buttocks
    dizzy scatterbrained
    drag clothes, esp. women’s clothes
    fantabulosa fabulous/wonderful
    naff bad, drab
    ogle look (originally ogles meant eyes)
    plate feet (also Cockney rhyming slang: Plates of Meat = Feet)
    slap makeup
    (rough) trade sex, sex-partner, potential sex-partner

    Ok, some of these words aren’t often used by hetro’s but they will understand most if not all.

  5. Personal reference as homo is homo in 1977. Do use it, homo, to ask any about. GAY as THE name do find from the ADVOCATE, after a nesting, a year later, when discover it there in. Still hate the name and its denote. Now hate the lgbt label versus the simple GAY name. Still prefer the homo name and this homo asks if a he minds this guy is a homo. Not if. Obvious by then.
    — WORD HISTORY — cough — GAY v HOMO v FAG v FAGGOT v OFF BEAT v Weird v Sexual Revolutionary v Different v BOY — none ever supplant these eyes looking hard on. — “Can I Steal You” is way more effecting than “Are You Gay”. “Are You A Homo” is way more effecting than “Are You Gay”. GAY is political lgb+. HOMO is pure sex. — These eyes say more. — GAY is a neutral way of saying “IT”. GAY is a straight old bar room way of saying “IT”. “GAY” comes from street whores identifying targets as potentials, as fun money guys who might be, uh, “gay”, versus, uh, bads. Old HOMO’s use the term GAY is from their old encounters with STREET BOYS using the word, especially black boys, who are more needy and cheaper. THEY invent its use. It is a black whore use from New Orleans’ use of JAZZ as jiasm as jism as jickum as cum. As for being gay at a funeral comeuppance, not as a saddening, hence a gay event, do go figure. Whores abound gay events. [They do not abound at such gay events as some English entail as some correct a way of writing. Whores abound. F your English F-ery.] The funeral is a celebrate of life, and, though, there is the sad, there is the no any less the GAY. OH ! The word is of from guy and it is never originally of any female. The dead GUY is a GAY as now a dead thing to celebrate. Makes no sense ? He is become a gay guy. JAZZ and jism. GAZE upon the future. Old new Orleans phrae.

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