Query: Gay Self-Appellations in 20s, 30s?

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Tue Feb 24 16:43:36 UTC 2004

The 1903 cite is questionable to say the least. That is why HDAS puts it in
square brackets.

GAY meant 'prostitute' and 'promiscuous woman' in Victorian England. The VERY
occasional references to "gay boy" undoubtedly are an extension of the
'prostitute' meaning. There is NO evidence that this meaning skipped over to mean
'homosexual' proper (for one thing, this was not really even a concept in
Victorian England, let alone something that there would have been a word for). There
is even less reason to believe that the Victorian meaning skipped across the
ocean and reppeared in American hobo (sic) slang of the 1930s.

American hobo slang GEYCAT may have affected the 1930s subculture meaning of
GAY 'homosexual', but I doubt it. It first emerges among urban males of a
class that would not have had too much contact with hobos. A more likely etymology
is as an extension of the common 1920s meaning of GAY as 'somewhat decadent;
given to party-going and attention to material things such as fashion and

All of this has been discussed before, I believe, on ADS-L. I discuss it in
detail in my DICTIONARIES article a few years back.

In a message dated 2/23/04 11:37:00 PM, douglas at NB.NET writes:

<< But "gayboy" = "homosexual man" appears (HDAS) to date from 1903 ... and
even without that early citation "gay boy" would be natural by analogy to
(apparently very prevalent) 19th century "gay girl" meaning "prostitute"
(still so used in South Asia). Given "gay boy" = "male prostitute" (the
narrowest analogy), extension to "homosexual man" in mainstream use would
be certain IMHO, and if "gay boy" = "homosexual man" then I think immediate
"gay" = "homosexual" is a cinch. Just a plausibility argument.

I suspect that "gaycat" assumed its homosexual implication (to the extent
that it had any) from "gay" rather than the other way around: "gaycat"
basically meant "amateur tramp" originally AFAIK (whence?), and only later
"sidekick"/"possible catamite". >>

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