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The term's use as a reference to homosexuality may date as early as the late 19th century, but its use gradually increased in the midth century. In the s, gay became the word favored by homosexual men to describe their sexual orientation. At about the same time, a new, pejorative use became prevalent in some parts of the world. Among younger speakers, the word has a meaning ranging from derision e. In this use, the word rarely means "homosexual", as it is often used, for example, to refer to an inanimate object or abstract concept of which one disapproves.

The extent to which these usages still retain connotations of homosexuality has been debated and harshly criticized. The word gay arrived in English during the 12th century from Old French gai , most likely deriving ultimately from a Germanic source. In English, the word's primary meaning was "joyful", "carefree", "bright and showy", and the word was very commonly used with this meaning in speech and literature. For example, the optimistic s are still often referred to as the Gay Nineties. It was apparently not until the 20th century that the word began to be used to mean specifically "homosexual", although it had earlier acquired sexual connotations.

The derived abstract noun gaiety remains largely free of sexual connotations and has, in the past, been used in the names of places of entertainment; for example W. The word may have started to acquire associations of immorality as early as the 14th century, but had certainly acquired them by the 17th. A gay woman was a prostitute , a gay man a womanizer , and a gay house a brothel.

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Similarly, a gay cat was a young male apprenticed to an older hobo , commonly exchanging sex and other services for protection and tutelage. Such usage, documented as early as the s, was likely present before the 20th century, [2] although it was initially more commonly used to imply heterosexually unconstrained lifestyles, as in the once-common phrase " gay Lothario ", [13] or in the title of the book and film The Gay Falcon , which concerns a womanizing detective whose first name is "Gay".


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Similarly, Fred Gilbert and G. MacDermott 's music hall song of the s, "Charlie Dilke Upset the Milk" — "Master Dilke upset the milk, when taking it home to Chelsea; the papers say that Charlie's gay, rather a wilful wag! Well into the mid 20th century a middle-aged bachelor could be described as "gay", indicating that he was unattached and therefore free, without any implication of homosexuality.

This usage could apply to women too. The British comic strip Jane , first published in the s, described the adventures of Jane Gay. Far from implying homosexuality, it referred to her free-wheeling lifestyle with plenty of boyfriends while also punning on Lady Jane Grey.


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Gertrude Stein and her Family , the portrait "featured the sly repetition of the word gay, used with sexual intent for one of the first times in linguistic history," and Edmund Wilson , quoted by James Mellow in Charmed Circle , agreed. They were The word continued to be used with the dominant meaning of "carefree", as evidenced by the title of The Gay Divorcee , a musical film about a heterosexual couple.

Bringing Up Baby was the first film to use the word gay in apparent reference to homosexuality. In a scene in which Cary Grant 's character's clothes have been sent to the cleaners, he is forced to wear a woman's feather-trimmed robe. When another character asks about his robe, he responds, "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!

In , the earliest reference found to date for the word gay as a self-described name for homosexuals came from Alfred A. Gross, executive secretary for the George W. They have a way of describing themselves as gay but the term is a misnomer.


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  • By the midth century, gay was well established in reference to hedonistic and uninhibited lifestyles [11] and its antonym straight , which had long had connotations of seriousness, respectability, and conventionality, had now acquired specific connotations of heterosexuality. This association no doubt helped the gradual narrowing in scope of the term towards its current dominant meaning, which was at first confined to subcultures.

    Gay was the preferred term since other terms, such as queer , were felt to be derogatory.

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    In midth century Britain, where male homosexuality was illegal until the Sexual Offences Act , to openly identify someone as homosexual was considered very offensive and an accusation of serious criminal activity. Additionally, none of the words describing any aspect of homosexuality were considered suitable for polite society. Consequently, a number of euphemisms were used to hint at suspected homosexuality. Examples include "sporty" girls and "artistic" boys, [24] all with the stress deliberately on the otherwise completely innocent adjective.

    The s marked the transition in the predominant meaning of the word gay from that of "carefree" to the current "homosexual". In the British comedy-drama film Light Up the Sky! He begins, "I'd like to propose The Benny Hill character responds, "Not to you for start, you ain't my type".

    He then adds in mock doubt, "Oh, I don't know, you're rather gay on the quiet. Similarly, Hubert Selby, Jr. In June , the headline of the review of the Beatles' Sgt. The Official Biography", because the song took its name from a homosexual promoter they had encountered who had romantic desires for songwriter Ray Davies ' teenage brother; and the lines "he is so gay and fancy free" attest to the ambiguity of the word's meaning at that time, with the second meaning evident only for those in the know.

    There is little doubt that the homosexual sense is a development of the word's traditional meaning, as described above. It has nevertheless been claimed that gay stands for "Good As You", but there is no evidence for this: According to Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, Braun , "the development of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual LGB sexual identity is a complex and often difficult process.

    Unlike members of other minority groups e. Rather, LGB individuals are often raised in communities that are either ignorant of or openly hostile toward homosexuality. The British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell has argued that the term gay is merely a cultural expression which reflects the current status of homosexuality within a given society, and claiming that "Queer, gay, homosexual One day, we will not need them at all.

    If a person engages in sexual activity with a partner of the same sex but does not self-identify as gay, terms such as ' closeted' , 'discreet', or ' bi-curious ' may apply. Conversely, a person may identify as gay without having had sex with a same-sex partner. Possible choices include identifying as gay socially, while choosing to be celibate , or while anticipating a first homosexual experience.

    Further, a bisexual person might also identify as "gay" but others may consider gay and bisexual to be mutually exclusive. There are some who are drawn to the same sex but neither engage in sexual activity nor identify as gay; these could have the term asexual applied, even though asexual generally can mean no attraction, or involve heterosexual attraction but no sexual activity. Some reject the term homosexual as an identity-label because they find it too clinical-sounding; [22] [23] [34] they believe it is too focused on physical acts rather than romance or attraction, or too reminiscent of the era when homosexuality was considered a mental illness.

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    Conversely, some reject the term gay as an identity-label because they perceive the cultural connotations to be undesirable or because of the negative connotations of the slang usage of the word. Style guides, like the following from the Associated Press , call for gay over homosexual:. Used to describe men and women attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women.

    Preferred over homosexual except in clinical contexts or references to sexual activity. There are those who reject the gay label for reasons other than shame or negative connotations. For many ardent feminist lesbians, it was also important that the L come first, lest an L following a G become another symbol of male dominance over women, [38] although other women prefer the usage gay woman.

    In the s, this was followed by another equally concerted push to include the terminology specifically pointing out the inclusion of bisexual, transgender , intersex , and other people, reflecting the intra-community debate as to whether these other sexual minorities were part of the same human rights movement. Most news organizations have formally adopted variations of this use, following the example and preference of the organizations, as reflected in their press releases and public communications.

    The term gay can also be used as an adjective to describe things related to homosexual men, or things which are part of the said culture. For example, the term "gay bar" describes the bar which either caters primarily to a homosexual male clientele, or is otherwise part of homosexual male culture. Using it to describe an object, such as an item of clothing, suggests that it is particularly flamboyant, often on the verge of being gaudy and garish.

    This usage predates the association of the term with homosexuality, but has acquired different connotations since the modern usage developed. The label gay was originally used purely as an adjective "he is a gay man" or "he is gay". The term has also been in use as a noun with the meaning "homosexual man" since the s, most commonly in the plural for an unspecified group, as in "gays are opposed to that policy.

    It is sometimes used to refer to individuals, as in "he is a gay" or "two gays were there too," although this may be perceived as derogatory. When used with a derisive attitude e.

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    While retaining its other meanings, its use among young people as a general term of disparagement is common. This usage of the word has been criticized as homophobic. A BBC ruling by the Board of Governors over the use of the word in this context by Chris Moyles on his Radio 1 show, "I do not want that one, it's gay," advises "caution on its use" for this reason:. This is a widespread current usage of the word amongst young people The word 'gay' The governors said, however, that Moyles was simply keeping up with developments in English usage.

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    The committee The panel acknowledged however that this use The BBC's ruling was heavily criticised by the Minister for Children, Kevin Brennan , who stated in response that "the casual use of homophobic language by mainstream radio DJs" is:. To ignore this problem is to collude in it. The blind eye to casual name-calling, looking the other way because it is the easy option, is simply intolerable. Shortly after the Moyles incident, a campaign against homophobia was launched in Britain under the slogan "homophobia is gay", playing on the double meaning of the word "gay" in youth culture, as well as the popular perception that vocal homophobia is common among closeted homosexuals.

    Howell, argued that the pejorative use of the word "gay" was a microaggression. LGBT culture. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about gay as an English-language term. For the sexual orientation, see Homosexuality. For other uses, see Gay disambiguation. Sexual orientation. Social attitudes. Prejudice , violence.

    Academic fields and discourse. Doris Day n. Eyeball queen n. Fanny bellhop n. Fish and chips n. Full house n. Hetty n. Horatian n.