Word of the Gay

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

#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.]

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