Mark A. Mandel
Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM
Tue Jun 19 15:31:04 UTC 2001
What is the history and geography of "bachelor" or "confirmed bachelor" as
a euphemism for "male homosexual"? We've been discussing the term on
another list I'm on, with references to inter alia "My Fair Lady" and its
progenitor "Pygmalion". It seems (from cites not included in this email) to
have been in use in the UK in at least the first half of the 20c, but the
evidence brought forth on the lois-bujold list to date is less strong for
late 20c (iirc) and for the US.
Mark A. Mandel : Dragon Systems, a Lernout & Hauspie company
Mark_Mandel at dragonsys.com : Senior Linguist
320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02460, USA : http://www.dragonsys.com
Personal home page: http://world.std.com/~mam/
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 23:06:59 +0100 (BST)
From: Charlie Finlay <email address deleted -- MAM>
Subject: Re: Confirmed Bachelor OT:
Mark A Mandel wrote:
> Howsomever, the early 20c UK evidence (Shaw) doesn't convince me about
> mid20c US (Lerner & Lowe) and other US.
Right! I absolutely agree (and tried to make the same point with the movie
However, I think there is a case for the possibility of it being a U.S.
euphemism in the 19th century and at the turn of the century. (Which brings
us back to Buchanan.)
In looking for U.S. examples, so far the only one I've found is from the
fmaous photo-journalist Jacob Riis (18491914) in THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN
(1901). Riis was an immigrant, however. This is also something I turned up
at Bartleby's <http://www.bartleby.com/207/12.html>.
A despatch from the Tenderloin police station had it that the wife of the
Rev. Dr. Henry Mottet was locked up there, out of her mind. We had no means
of knowing that Dr. Mottet was at that time a confirmed bachelor.
"O Lord!" he sighed heavily. "A strange man climbs through my parlor
to tell me, a bachelor, that my wife is locked up in the police station.
What will happen next?"
Riis's humor at the situation seems to imply a double meaning he expected
his readers to get. But that sort of thing is very hard to prove.
My guess is that it was in British and American use in the late 19th
century, and faded in America first (where the common slang words we use
all first appeared, according to the OED), certainly by the Depression, and
then slowly fell out of British use as well.
I can't believe *somebody* hasn't written this up somewhere before. Until
this discussion came up, I assumed that the usage was known among everyone.
I remember when "The Odd Couple" was on when I was a kid, and the grown-ups
would laugh and explain it by saying that the characters were "you know,
bachelors." I know of at least one peculiar 19th century Ohio 'pioneer
term' that persisted in my family; my grandmother was raised by her
grandparents, and my mother had both near-centegenarian grandmothers around
well into her childhood So it makes sense if 'bachelor' is a pre-WW I term
for homosexual that it would persist in our family.
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