early "gay" cite

Thu Sep 22 18:56:11 UTC 2011

                I suspect that the dog-whistle theory of Cary Grant's statement is not just unproven and unrefuted, but unprovable and unrefutable.

                "Go gay" has been a phrase in English since at least the 16th century, though it has never been common.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it meant to be hedonistic or dissipated (except when applied to a woman, when it meant she was a prostitute).  I haven't seen it, but there was a 1931 British novel by Rodney Stuart Burton with the title Gone Gay:  A Romance of Modern Days.  The cover featured an attractive woman in a low-cut dress, holding a martini or champagne glass (it's hard to tell which from the picture at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gone-Gay-Rodney-Stuart-Burton/dp/B004NTDTQG).  So it's entirely plausible that Grant meant that he had suddenly become a dissolute partier, and presumably that's what the director thought he meant.

                On the other hand, we know that by 1941 the modern use of "gay" was extant, though we don't know whether or not Grant knew about it.  It's not exactly a leap to suppose that a word that was around in 1941 was already known to some people in 1938.

John Baker

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From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]<mailto:[mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]> On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter

Sent: Thursday, September 22, 2011 12:33 PM


Subject: Re: early "gay" cite

Plenty of absurd ideas go unrefuted, but Dan may be on to something.

GB shows an ad from the Feb., 1946,_Boy's Life_ for _Along the Navajo

Trail_, starring Roy Rogers, promising, "You'll go gay, you'll go wild,

you'll go for this grand carnival of musical entertainment!"

Further, from the _Saturday Review_ (snippet, allegedly 1931): "He wondered,

vaguely, whether he was a little drunk. ... he felt, suddenly, very excited

and gay, and a little mad. An absurd line of a song ran through his brain,

'I wanna go gay, I wanna go gay'...Only you couldn't go gay at a business

luncheon."  (I can't tell the sexual context of these lines.)

Coded messages? Believe what you will.  But if the song can be identified,

the lyrics might provide a likely explanation.

Back in the pre-cyber days, before GB would scan a million books for you in

no time, no one I discussed the question with  admitted with "go gay" as any

kind of idiom or ordinary collocation outside of its homosexual usage. As

HDAS shows, "to "get gay" used to be pretty common in the sense of "get

uppity," but that's different.

The cowboy song "The Streets of Laredo" includes the line, "'Twas once in

the saddle, I used to go dashing,/ 'Twas once in the saddle, I used to go

gay."  But it's just as often "be gay."  Also, as it parallels "go dashing,"

it does not support the sense of "go" as "become." Coded message?

Of course, this is all pretty moot for the history of the lexicon as long as

the 1933 ex. in HDAS holds up. If not, Grant's line loses its likelihood as

a sexual reference. I do not have access to the book cited in HDAS: _The

Young and Evil_, by Charles Ford and Parker Tyler (Paris, 1933). I consulted

it at the NYPL forty years ago.

HDAS also cites, in brackets and with a disclaimer, Gertrude Stein's even

less relevant use of "gay" in 1922, an ex. also hailed by enthusiasts as a

magnificently trail-blazing dog-whistle message.


On Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 11:44 AM, Dan Goncharoff <thegonch at gmail.com<mailto:thegonch at gmail.com>> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU<mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>>

> Poster:       Dan Goncharoff <thegonch at GMAIL.COM<mailto:thegonch at GMAIL.COM>>

> Subject:      Re: early "gay" cite


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> Cary Grant used the known phrase "gone gay", which meant to be

> colorful and youthful and even a bit silly.


> That it might have also been dog-whistle language to the gay community

> of the time is an interesting theory, unproven and unrefuted.


> DanG

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