Sunday, 13 October 2013

Will Young and the Use of Language

From the Swindon Advertiser

Chart star Will Young has said more should be done to clamp down on homophobic language and the use of the word "gay" as an insult in schools.

The Leave Right Now singer said he had even taken up the issue with Education Secretary Michael Gove who he said had been "encouraging".

Thing is, other than the "happy and carefree" use of the word, the word "gay" has been, for decades, used as an insult or slang (and probably slang simply to cover up illegal acts). From Wikipedia

  • Gay—Originally meant (13th century) "lighthearted", "joyous" or (14th century) "bright and showy", it also came to mean "happy"; it acquired connotations of immorality as early as 1637, either sexual e.g., gay woman "prostitute", gay man "womanizer", gay house "brothel", or otherwise, e.g., gay dog "over-indulgent man" and gay deceiver "deceitful and lecherous". In America by 1897 the expression gay cat referred to a hobo, especially a younger hobo in the company of an older one; by 1935, it was used in prison slang for a homosexual boy; and by 1951 and clipped to gay, referred to homosexuals.

So, from that, we can see that what was used as an insult was subsequently embraced by the gay community. Which is fair enough. It's a good way of disarming the insult. You call yourself a dyke, someone calling you a dyke loses it's power.

But if you're going to embrace a street slang insult, it seems a bit off to complain that people people are using it as a street slang insult.

6 comments:

Bayard said...

Commenter and occasional blogger Bayard has said more should be done to clamp down on the misuse of words as synonyms for "homosexual" in the language and the use of the word "gay" as one of them.
As someone who is old enough to have used "gay" in its original meaning, I'd like to have it back please.

Derek said...

Interesting info from Wiki but there's more. These uses of "gay" are different to the standard Scots use. When Scots use "gay" or ("gey" as it is usually spelled for Scots pronunciation) it can also mean "unusually" or "extraordinarily". So "That's gay big", or "You're gay sure of that". Or "He's a gay miserable creature". No idea how it relates to the other two meanings although you get the usual confusion over phrases like "The Gay Gordons" but there it is.

The Stigler said...

Bayard,

I don't have a problem with people using the term "gay" for "homosexual". I have a problem with people claiming it exclusively.

Bayard said...

TS, well quite, if Will Young wants only one meaning for "gay", then so do I, except I want the original one.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Hang about here.

Mr Young is not saying that the word "gay" should no longer be used in its original meaning, what he said was that he didn't like it when words for "homosexual" (which includes the word "gay" as well as the word "homosexual") are routinely used as insults.

So if the gays now decided they'd like to be described as "nimble" or "obscure" or any other adjective chosen at random, he would not want "nimble" or "obscure" to be used as a playground insult either.

Bayard said...

Gay is already no longer used in its original meaning, therefore Mr Young is effectively demanding that it have only one meaning. Anyway, he's pissing against the wind, all euphemisms end up being used as the insults they try vainly to replace.