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Posts Tagged ‘Polari dictionary’

Some say that straights have always been the last to understand their gay brethren, and their language is no different. As early as the 1600s in Britain and on the continent, a language called “Polari” sprang up among gays and was heard in open markets, on fairgrounds and in circuses, and especially in the British Merchant Navy. Based loosely on a variant of Italian called “Romany,” it incorporated such disparate elements as slang, circus and thieves’ cant, and later (during World War II) even Yiddish expressions.

The language was widespread, as common as the gay subculture that spread it.  Then as now, gays were eager to distinguish themselves in their own community, and to hide their sexual preferences from a hostile society, by the use of a rich variety of words known only to them.

Those familiar with Gypsies, Travellers and Pavees will find nothing new here!

In doing research for my NANOWRIMO novel Heart to Hart, I’ve found many expressions that were popular not only in Britain in the 1920s, but also in Ireland, Scotland and American urban centers. Many of the following words were “sneaked” onto British television starting in the 1960s; and even though the 60s saw the decline of Polari, it has recently made a comeback on such shows as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and in the mouths of contemporary comedians.

In 2002, two books on the subject were published, both written by Paul Baker.  They are Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men; and Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari  and Gay Slang.

The following are some Polari words and expressions. The ones with asterisks are those I’ve used in my MS, words that I find especially textured and evocative of the complex characters who speak them. They are listed in alphabetical order. Of course, you’ll see many familiar words among these. The surprise is that the words were well known by the decade of the Roaring Twenties, and some of them even hundreds of years before then.

*Basket…The bulge of male genitals as seen through their clothing
Bibi…Bisexual
*Bitch…Effeminate or passive gay male
*Blag…a pick-up
*Blue…Homosexual
Camp…Effeminate
*Cod…Vile, nasty, naff
Dilly boy..Male prostitute
Dish…Butt, buttocks
Drag…Clothes, esp. women’s clothes
*Kaffies…Baggy trousers
*Lilly…Police
Naff…Ugly, vile, hetero
*Omi…Man
Palone…Woman
*Omi-palone…Homosexual man
*Slap…Makeup
Trade…Sexual encounter (rough trade… a blue-collar, thuggish, or even a violent sex partner)
Tootsie trade…Sex between two passive homosexuals
*Troll…To walk about, esp. looking for trade
*Zhoosh, zhooshy…(verb) To style hair, the adj. meaning “showy” or tarted up

Erin O’Quinn, author

The Man in Romance blog: https://romancemanlove.wordpress.com

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The Chase: Coming January 26 from Amber Allure

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