Fwd: origins of "faggot"

Jonathon Green slang at CRAYFORD.DEMON.CO.UK
Mon Apr 9 13:03:02 UTC 2001

Faggot, while etymologically unproven, must, like so many other derogatory
terms for male homosexuals - queen, pansy, nancy, agnes, betty, jessie, etc.
etc. - lie in a comparison to a woman, in this case an old one. Surely the
clue lies in the Joyce quote and that cited from the 'slang dictionary of
1873' (presumably a late edn. of John Camden Hotten - spelt 'fagot' it can
be found in the 1st 1859 edn. and all subseq. revisions). The 'bundle of
sticks' link is valid, but only figuratively, i.e. in the image of 'a a dry,
shrivelled old woman, whose bones were like a bundle of sticks, only fit to
burn' (Hotten, 1859, p 137). The theories regarding the burning of
homosexuals, which may indeed have gone on at some point in history, just
don't seem lexically sound, for all that they may well appeal to a group
that has been unjustly and enthusiastically persecuted for centuries.

As regards Blacks taking back 'nigger', this is hardly novel. Van Vechten in
'Nigger Heaven' (1926, p.26) notes: 'This informal epithet [i.e. 'nigger']
is freely used by Negroes among themselves, not only as a term of
opprobrium, but also actually as a term of endearment, [however] its
employment by a white person is always fiercely resented. The word Negress
is foridden under all circumstances.' In the homosexual context surely the
gay community has retaken not so much 'faggot' but 'queer', as in the
activists of 'Queer Nation' and similar constructs.

Jonathon Green

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