Word of the Gay

*Straight talk on Gay language, one word at-a-time.

Archive for June, 2008

#23 “gaydar”

“Gaydar” is a portmanteau word (one that combines two words into one) of the words “gay” and “radar” and refers to the ability of someone to decipher if someone is either homosexual (“gay”) or heterosexual (“straight”) through the use of perception, intuition and past experiences, i.e. their own personal “radar.”

Having the ability to pick up on one’s sexuality is a talent that many boast, but few actually possess.  It seems the more time one spends within the gay community, or with gay men and lesbians, the more attuned this ability can actually become.  Some gay men and lesbians pride themselves on having a refined gaydar, and use it to their advantage in social interactions.

1. noun: the ability to decipher one’s sexuality (as being gay or lesbian as opposed to heterosexual), through the recognition of either overt or subtle clues in mannerisms, patterns of speech, dress style, etc.

Ex: “My gaydar was going into overdrive when he walked into the room.  Who does he think he’s fooling?!”

The term has been made widely popular over the last two decades in North America and Europe, and has mass exposure in popular culture, having been used in countless television programs, short films, full-length features films and on the internet.  Check out the WikiGayDar post for more references to “gaydar” in popular culture.  In the United Kingdom, www.gaydar.co.uk is a widely popular and trafficked social-networking and dating website devoted to gay men. 



#22 “Polari”

Throughout history, gay people have been forced-out of mainstream society and have had to create for themselves a sort of counter-culture, a secret code of ethics, language and activities.  One manifestation of this phenomena occurred, and flourished, in Great Britain during the mid-Twentieth century.

“Polari” is described as a “secret language” used by gay people during the twentieth century (mainly in England), that was based on slang used by societal outcasts – namely, criminals, prostitutes, sailors and tramps.  It incorporated English rhyme with other languages and slang, such as: Yiddish, Italian and French.  As gay slang and culture moved more into the mainstream toward the end of the twentieth century, Polari began to lose its footing and was used less and less.  Some of its phrases and slang are still used today, but in far less frequency.  Most people who use these “Polari” phrases are most likely unaware of their origins.

EXAMPLES of POLARI phrases and words:

AC/DC: 1. noun: a couple.  2. adjective: bisexual.

joshed up: adjective: looking your best. (root: zhoosh-Yiddish)

on the team: adjective: gay.

polari, polare, parlare, parlaree: 1. noun: gay language.  2. verb: to talk. (possible root: palare-Italian) 

[For more information on Polari, the lost language of “the gays”, pick up “Fantabulosa: A History of Polari and Gay Slang” by Paul Baker, published by continuum Books.]

#21 “cruise”

The term “cruise” refers to the act of seeking a sexual partner – either the act of moving from one place to another, or the interaction between two individuals.  More recently, “eye-fucking” has also been introduced into the vernacular as a more vulgar, colloquial term to use.

Gay men recognize “cruising” as more than just eye contact, but as a sort of sport – to see who can get eyed, or “checked-out” more times while walking through a gay district.  Some popular areas for cruising include, but are certainly not limited to: parks, beaches, supermarkets, shopping centers, gyms, bars an restaurants.

– verb

1. to move around in order to look for a possible sexual partner 

2. provocative, direct eye contact with possible sexual partners; meant to casually attract a person as you are walking down the street, or are driving in secluded areas

Related: cruised, cruising, cruisy

One movie is tentatively related to this term:  The 1980 cult film, “Cruising” featured Al Pacino as an undercover police officer sent into the beat of the “sleazy” underworld of gay S&M and leather culture in New York City during a rash of serial killings.  Pacino is sent into the scene as a decoy for the murderer, and the film chronicles his encounters with leather daddies, johns, and ultimately the killer.  This film didn’t win any Oscars, and it certainly wouldn’t win any glaad Media Awards either. 

[Origin: The terms was coined in the 16th – 17th Centuries when referring to ships at sea, then given to individuals.  The gay meaning is most likely derived from mid-Twentieth century North America, when the popularity of the automobile, the full development of the highway system and gay culture combined – resulting in “cruising” spots from Mexico to Canada.]