a gay

ronbutters at AOL.COM ronbutters at AOL.COM
Wed Dec 29 18:10:47 UTC 2010

 The number of syllables seems to me a kind of red herring, masking the real issue: "gay," "black," and even the sometimes-objected-to "Jew" lack a dignifying suffix found in e.g., "Spaniard," "American," "Japanese," and even "homosexual." This is not the full story, I suppose, but even "a Brit" and "a Swede" sound a bit brusk.

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On Dec 29, 2010, at 11:10 AM, geoffrey nunberg <nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU> wrote:

> I posted on this in the Linguist List back in 1992.
> http://linguistlist.org/issues/3/3-855.html
> 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 way.
> Geoff
>> 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-)
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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