George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Nov 11 20:23:06 UTC 2002

----- Original Message -----
From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Date: Saturday, November 9, 2002 4:29 pm
Subject: Re: MERKIN in the OED

> At 12:38 PM +0000 11/9/02, Jonathon Green wrote:
> >
> >There is also this recent variant:
> >
> >1997-2001 The Online Slang Dictionary [Internet] merkin n 1. a
> >straight man married to or involved with a lesbian. The lesbian may
> >be in the public eye and may have a merkin to hide the fact that she
> >is a lesbian
> >
> For a female's beard.  Very cute.  (Presumably, like the default
> beard, it could also refer to a man who escorts a lesbian on a given
> night out, not necessarily a man who's married to or seriously
> involved with a lesbian.  The deception is the key part.)  I've still
> never quite understood why a woman who performs this service for a
> gay man is called his beard, but that's another issue.
> larry

The original sense was probably from gambling, as in the citation below:
a1953:  [A horse trainer] looked about for a “beard” -- a man with whom he had no ostensible connection -- to do his betting for him.
[A horse trainer] didn’t make the bets himself, fearing that this might put a run on [his] horse, but had several friends put the money down in small lots.  This is known in the trade as using “beards.”
Joe H. Palmer, This Was Racing, N. Y.: A. S. Barnes, 1953, p. 82 & 107.  [Palmer died in 1952; the book is a collection of columns written in the late 1940s & early 1950s.  The exact date of the original publication is not given.  He tells a story elsewhere in the book about Frank James, the wild-west bank robber, after his release from prison, working as a beard around race-tracks.]

1972:   One night I was bearding for a Congressman.  This is a duty of bachelor staff members when a legislator is married and wishes to go out publicly with a lady other than his wife. *** To the unsuspecting public, the bachelor (the “beard”) is the lady’s escort and the legislator is just tagging along.
Charles Ashman, Kissinger: The Adventures of Super-Kraut, N. Y.: Dell, 1972, p. 7.  [Referring to the 1950s.]

As I recall, HDAS doesn't have the gambling sense; for the dating sense, it says, in part: 1956, etc.; (note beard, n, 3b, a companion or escort, limited to Homosex. use, from 1971)


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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