Date: Wed, 28 Feb 1996 21:02:24 -0500 From: RonButters[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM Subject: Re: GAY (Changes to the English Language) I have done a good deal of research on the question of when GAY began to take on the connotations 'homosexual'. I have an article on the subject which is virtually complete (I gave earlier versions at the Dictionary Society of America meeting last summer and at the Lavender Language Conference last fall). The best SHORT treatment is found in the new RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN SLANG, vol. 1. The best published LONG treatment is found in George Chauncey's GAY NEW YORK. Everyone agrees that the earliest definitive citing is in Gershon Legman's 1941 lexicon of homosexual terminology, where he lists GAY as used in this way only by members of the "homosexual subculture"; it seems to have been unknown to the general public, even in major metropolitan areas of the United States. Many people also believe that Gertrude Stein used the term with this meaning in the 1920s in "Miss Furr and Miss Skeen," though I find that dubious myself. Chauncey and RANDOM HOUSE SLANG DICT. both repeat the commonly held theory that Cary Grant was using the term to mean 'homosexual' in a famous scene in the movie BRINGING UP BABY (1938). Again, I am dubious, though whether or not that is what Grant had in mind (the use was apparently an ad lib) his uttering of the phrase "I've just gone gay" as a way of explaining why he was wearing a dress doubtless greatly amused large numbers of members of the "homosexual subculture" and may even have helped spread the term (though the movie was not wildly popular when it was first released). Anyway, the short answer to the question is, "GAY was certainly used by homosexuals as an arcane adjective of self-reference in the 1930s, at least in major metropolitan centers of the United States. It spread socially and geographically throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It is interesting to note (Chauncey reports) that many homosexual men in the 1940s resisted the new term, preferring instead to refer to themselves as FAIRIES or QUEERS. GAY seemed too trivial. Moreover, there was a common slang sense of GAY in the United States that meant what CHEEKY and OUT OF LINE mean today (i.e., 'brash', 'overbearing'). This is probably more than most of you wanted to know. If you want to know even more, I'll be happy to send you a copy of my article ("What Did Cary Grant Know and When Did He Know I?") as soon as I put the final finishing touches on it.