Gay slang in the 60's
September 17, 2006 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Was Polari employed by gays in America during the 60's ? If not, what ?

My Google Fu has failed me in an attempt to find gay slang that might have been used during the mid 60's in America. According to Wikipedia, Polari fell out of favor during the latter part of that decade. Was it replaced by another underground dialect, or did it slowly evolve ? Bonus points for any list of slang used during that era.
posted by lobstah to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've never heard of Polari before, though granted, I was just a child in the 60s. The glossary on your link has a handful of words that would be familiar to gay men in the US (then and now), but most of them are quite foreign.

You might get tips from gay novels set in the period. Try Ethan Mordden's "How Long Has This Been Going On?" which ranges from the 40s trhough (I think) the 80s.

If you were here, you could visit one of the oldest gay bars in Texas, see old-style drag, and you could talk to men who would have been using gay slang then.
posted by Robert Angelo at 10:14 AM on September 17, 2006

Come to think of it, I used to have a copy of this book, which might be helpful.
posted by Robert Angelo at 10:21 AM on September 17, 2006

Just had a charper on the google..."An American Polari".
posted by popcassady at 10:39 AM on September 17, 2006

I was out in the early 70s and pretty active in the scene by the mid 70s. I don't remember anything like Polari. A lot of camp talk, a lot of tag lines from movies like "All About Eve," and of course some brutal dirty talk ("Ugh, I wouldn't fuck him with your dick"). But nothing like this level of slang.
posted by La Cieca at 12:20 PM on September 17, 2006

you could talk to men who would have been using gay slang then.

An interesting experience, no doubt, but not very useful for this purpose. People's memory for what language was used at a particular period (as for most other things) is notoriously bad. You should trust only printed sources from the period.
posted by languagehat at 12:32 PM on September 17, 2006

Thanks for the responses so far. Perhaps I should check out some literature from that era to find precisely what I wanted. I guess I was hoping that there would be some sort of GayWiki out there for one stop shopping. I was more interested in the early 60's, when the gay scene was a little more underground. How did they refer to themselves homosexuals?, friends of Dorothy ?...that sort of thing. Also, how did they refer to gay- friendly establishments, and was there an equivalent word for "Gaydar" in those days. I will check out " How Long Has This Been Going On" too. Thanks , and keep 'em coming if this gives you a better idea of what I was looking for.
posted by lobstah at 1:03 PM on September 17, 2006

It’s almost surely British-specific.
posted by joeclark at 4:02 PM on September 17, 2006

I suspect joeclark is right: this patois seems so UK-centric it's unlikely to have been widely adopted elsewhere (other than certain words like "basket" and "zhoosh"). Next Saturday, the BBC is airing a special entitled "Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!" (link includes Real Player clips), which should shed more light.

However, according to one, ummm, unimpeachable source, Polari has hopped the Pond and settled in at 1600.
posted by rob511 at 4:29 PM on September 17, 2006

Polari didn't so much evolve as devolve; many of the words still exist in the language without being identified as Polari. Examples : Naff, camp, slap. Many times where the meaning has warped slightly, or where the origins are in Cockney rhyming slang or from theatrical circles, but Polari is/was an influence.

Now, it's mostly known as the language Julian and Sandy used on Round The Horne (see Rob511's post and the BBC link). I don't think there was such a specifically "gay language" that replaced it (times changed; less need to hide; a less homogenous, close-knit community; etc).

In Polari, homosexuals referred to each other as omi-palones. Omi = male, Palone = female. Though, you could question someone's sexuality with the question, "is he [just] so?"

And, finally, to answer your original question : I have no idea if there was any use of Polari in the US. I'd guess that pockets of gay expats might have used it. You'd be more likely to find that gay communities in NY/SF/LA developed their own slang specific to time and place.
posted by mtonks at 12:51 AM on September 18, 2006

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