Saturday, March 22, 2008

'gay' as children's insult of choice

the word 'gay' has had several meanings through the years, and also depends on one's personal perspective with regard to its current understanding. for example, there is a great moment in the film 'bringing up baby' when katherine hepburn has trapped cary grant in her cottage by sending his clothes out to be dry-cleaned. the doorbell rings, and he opens it, dressed in a very frilly dressing-gown. he responds to the queries of the guests by saying, "i just went gay all of a sudden!" how many ways can you read that? in the context of the film, the era, our era, knowledge of cary grant's personal life, etc.

the bbc online magazine reports:

"The word has had many meanings over the centuries, often sexual, says Clive Upton, professor of Modern English Language at Leeds University. "In the early 19th Century it was used to refer to women who lived off immoral earnings," he says. Around the 1970s it was claimed by the homosexual community as a descriptive term for their sexual orientation, now its most popular meaning. By the 1980s it was finding its way into schools as a playground insult. "Every generation grows up with a whole lexicon of homosexual insults, in my day it was 'poofter' or 'bender'," says slang lexicographer Tony Thorne. "They were used much more because they were considered more offensive than 'gay', which is more neutral.""

mr thorne goes on to say that the current slang is again a different meaning:

"One reason for this increase in use could be because "gay" has partly lost its sexual connotations among young people, he says. While still pejorative, for the majority of youngsters it has replaced words such as "lame". "I have interviewed scores of school kids about this and they are always emphatic that it has nothing at all to do with hostility to homosexuals," says Mr Thorne, compiler of the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. "It is nearly always used in contexts where sexual orientation and sexuality are completely irrelevant.""

that would be lovely if it were true, but g/l/b/t/q teens are still in great danger, and it just feels a bit too soon to start making allowances for various forms of linguistic coinage. i think it should be put in the same place as the 'n' word. the message needs to be that clear.

here is the story.

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