[Ads-l] Antedating (by the OED) of "Gay" (Homosexual)

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sun Jan 13 10:33:42 EST 2019


Maybe I was being too hasty in backing off from viewing the 1934 citation as a true example of _gay_ 'homosexual'.  The reason I was backing off was because, when I searched databases covering that time-period, I found other uses of the phrases "gay parks" and "gay beaches" that seemed clearly to be more general meanings.  But I also have corresponded today with Michael Proffitt, the chief editor of the OED, and he thinks that the 1934 letter may be a legitimate antedating. Perhaps it is inevitable, given the billions of words of historical texts that we can search, that the general adjective "gay" would be found collocating with "parks" and "beaches," but such collocations may not preclude the possibility of another, more specific sense emerging by the early 1930s.

Fred Shapiro



________________________________
From: Shapiro, Fred
Sent: Sunday, January 13, 2019 8:52 AM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: Re: Antedating (by the OED) of "Gay" (Homosexual)


Upon reflection, it seems to me that the 1934 letter could well be using "gay" in a different or broader sense than the specific meaning of "homosexual."  Thus it probably belongs with the other iffy citations that the OED places in square brackets.


Fred Shapiro



________________________________
From: Shapiro, Fred
Sent: Sunday, January 6, 2019 5:24 PM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: Re: Antedating (by the OED) of "Gay" (Homosexual)


Thanks, Ben, I was unaware of this resource (the Burgess papers at the University of Chicago).  I see in the article linked to by Ben (from the Nov. 2005 issue of Chicago Magazine) the following appears:


"Burgess collected a May 1934 letter written by a Saginaw, Michigan, man named Bill to a Chicago friend: 'Yes, I did hear of your gay parks and beaches,' Bill wrote. Back in Saginaw he had to lie low because 'as for gay places there just aren’t any in town. We generally go to Detroit.'"


This 1934 letter seems like it could be a plausible antedating of gay 'homosexual.'  Ben, do you know whether the OED is aware of this letter?  Did they consider it and reject it?


Fred Shapiro



________________________________
From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Sunday, January 6, 2019 4:09 PM
To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: Re: Antedating (by the OED) of "Gay" (Homosexual)

More about the Ernest W. Burgess papers at Univ. of Chicago:

https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.chicagomag.com%2FChicago-Magazine%2FNovember-2005%2FThe-Gay-30S%2F&data=02%7C01%7Cfred.shapiro%40yale.edu%7C015fae37ed9b42e6de9e08d6741b5926%7Cdd8cbebb21394df8b4114e3e87abeb5c%7C0%7C0%7C636824058141225394&sdata=Gh5E%2Bc7Ykf8Lp0h7PLItw6q2JpF6NNAHrSebfbTGdqM%3D&reserved=0

On Sun, Jan 6, 2019 at 3:14 PM Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:

> I just noticed that the OED has recently pushed back its longstanding 1941
> first use of the word "gay" meaning homosexual.  There is now (not counting
> the several square-bracketed citations from the 1920s and 1930s) the
> following first-use citation:
>
>
> ?1937   Typescript (anon., ‘I was twenty years at the time’) (Univ. of
> Chicago Libr.: Ernest W. Burgess Papers, Box 98, Folder 11) 1   Al had told
> me that Kenneth was not gay but jam [i.e. heterosexual], and so I acted
> very manly.
>
> Fred Shapiro
>
>

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