Thursday, 7 February 2013

That's soooooooo gay...

No, this isn't a rant! I'm confining them to from now on. Instead, I want to think about the way our language evolves. I think we all know that 'gay' has developed pejorative connotations that every campaigner and their dog is fighting as hard as they can. How many times have you heard a teenager describe as 'gay' something that's a little bit crap? Annoying, isn't it?

But I think it's pointless trying to stem that movement. This is language: it's a fluid, dynamic, living thing. Stifling it will kill it.

And 'gay' didn't always mean 'homosexual' anyway. Sixty or so years ago, when your average person said they were feeling a little bit gay, they meant they were happy. No-one is really sure when 'gay' came to by synonymous with 'homosexual', although common consensus is it started in America, probably in the New York theatre district somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. But it could have been earlier than that - much earlier. Did Oscar Wilde know what he was doing when he used that word in the way he did? Some people argue that he knew exactly what other meaning that word had. He'd been to America, after all. Noel Coward almost certainly did.

'Gay' is an obvious example because its most common usage is a source of frequent political contention. Other words change their usage all the time and we don't even notice. 'Nice', for example. How many times have you said something is 'nice' when you've meant the exact opposite? When something's a bit naff or unpleasant or squicky. "Ugh, niiiice." Did you know that's the original meaning of 'nice' - something that's not nice at all? Probably due to its sarcastic employment, its meaning began to invert. Now it's inverting again - reverting, in fact. And it happens so insidiously that no-one notices.

'Funny' is another one. For the most part it denotes humour, but how many times have you said, or heard someone say, "I'm not being funny..." meaning they mean no offence? "I'm not being funny, but those jeans make your arse look huge." I'm not being funny, but wasn't it obvious he was cheating on you?" "I'm not being funny, but..." In that sense, 'funny' means offensive; sarcastic; unkind.

Language change is a positive thing - always. It proves that a language is vital. Latin does not change, because it's dead. Welsh relies more and more on loanwords; it's dying. English grows and develops a little more every single day. We're so used to it we barely notice. An American friend asked me yesterday how offensive the word 'git' is. I told her that it wasn't. Yet once upon a time if I'd called you an 'old git' you'd have been very upset. If I'd said someone was a 'bastard' they wouldn't have spoken to me again. These changes are part lexical, part cultural. As the stigma of illegitimacy has decreased, so has the stigma of the terms that describe it. Anyone can be a bastard now, and not just if they were born on the wrong side of the blanket. Anything can be gay, and not just because it experiences same-sex attractions. It doesn't even need to be happy about it.
Kate Aaron is the bestselling author of contemporary and fantasy gay romances.
Find all her books at  AmazonAReB&N,  iTunesSWSony & Kobo


  1. Splendid post, ma'am! Very timely, as I'm arguing with my blossoming teens about the use of words and what they can reap, good and bad. I may let them read this.

    And in this case, 'let' means 'make'.


    1. lol I come from a family of teachers, some of it must have rubbed off...

  2. Astute observation. I would only add that words /can/ hurt and should be used with care.


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