a gay

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Dec 29 17:47:19 UTC 2010

At 8:10 AM -0800 12/29/10, geoffrey nunberg wrote:
>I posted on this in the Linguist List back in 1992.
>  Note that this affects both 'gay' and 'black', both of them group
>terms derived from monosyllabic adjectives. "He was sitting next to
>a black" is as suggestive of a disparaging attitude as "We have a
>gay living next door" is. Also, this isn't a matter of sg/pl but of
>specificity. "There are two gays (blacks) on the commitee" produces
>the effect, whereas "There are no gays (blacks) on the committee"
>doesn't, nor does the kind-denoting bare plural: "Gays (blacks) have
>been supportive of the policy" -- cf also "some gays/blacks," "many
>gays/blacks" etc.
>The effect seems to be pretty robust when I check with other
>speakers, but I'm at a loss as to why things should fall out this

I thought this sounded familiar.  The above posting by Geoff and
others (including Alice Faber) link back to earlier Linguist List
postings upthread at


with contributions from fellow ADS-Lers Mark Mandel, Dennis Baron,
and me, along with some good commentary by the late Ellen F. Prince,
much of that discussion centering on "a Jew" vs. "a Jewish person".

>>  From: Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
>>  Date: December 28, 2010 10:28:49 AM PST
>>  Subject: a gay
>>  This has been mentioned here before, if I am not mistaken. In fact, I've
>>  mentioned it before--in the context of non-native speakers saying "I am
>>  [not] a gay," or something to this effect.
>>  OED gay C. n. 5. a. has "chiefly in pl." but every single example is
>>  "gays" (or "gays and lesbians") and 5. b. has "the gay" as a social
>>  class. Here's one now in print (so no more anecdotal stories about
>>  Italians):
>>  http://goo.gl/HbT6k
>>>  "If an open gay does his job, I think he'll be accepted," said retired
>>>  Rear Adm. George R. Worthington, a former Navy SEAL.
>>  Just wanted to add that Worthington's language is not accidental and
>>  falls into a pattern of people apprehensive about "the gay" using the
>>  singular version of 5.a.:
>>>  "I don't think there is going to be that many of them that want to
>>>  sign up for SEALs anyway because of the closeness and the tightness of
>>>  the training," Adm. Worthington said.
>>>  "My opinion is that they're probably more clerical oriented. Medical
>>>  profession. Corpsmen. Stuff like that."
>>  and
>>>  "Put the word out," said Adm. Worthington. "If you hit on somebody,
>>>  you're going to get in a fistfight. You may not like it. I just think
>>>  if they maintain their composure, they don't bother anybody.
>>  So this seems to fall into the social pattern--I am assuming this has
>>  been previously identified, although I don't recall any specific
>>  discussion to this effect.
>>     VS-)
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list