[Ads-l] Antedating of "Come Out of the Closet" (Homosexuality)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 23 19:39:12 UTC 2018

One issue is how to fold in the metaphorical “closet”, which isn’t part of these earlier cites below.  Is it possible that there was a reanalysis involved, so that “come out” is now seen as parasitic on/truncated from “come out of the closet”, even though the historical trajectory was different?


> On Jan 23, 2018, at 2:34 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> On Tue, Jan 23, 2018 at 2:01 PM, MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY
>>> come out of the closet (homosexuality) (OED 1972)
>>> 1968 _Berkeley Barb_ 15-21 Mar. 12/1 (Independent Voices)  HAY FRUITS!
>> Come out of the closet long enuf to attend the East Bay Gay
>>> Discussion Group Fridays.
>> It would be nigh-on impossible to search for, I suspect, but I wonder when
>> "of the closet" started being dropped, and when "come out" started being
>> applied to characteristics other than homosexuality ("come out as a
>> Republican", etc.).
> See OED3 senses 12 and 13 of "come out" (s.v. "come" -- June 2017 update).
> ----
> 12. intr. With complement. To make a public declaration in support of or
> against something specified; to declare oneself a supporter of, or act as
> an advocate for, a particular cause.
> See also _to come out in one's true colours_ at _colour_ n.1 Phrases 5a.
> 1836   New-Yorker 26 Mar. 9/2   James B. Gardiner..was then a supporter of
> Mr. Van Buren's claims for the Presidency.—Since that time, he has come out
> as a partisan of Gen. Harrison.
> [...]
> 13. intr.
> a. slang. Among homosexual men and women: to become socially or sexually
> active within homosexual circles; to realize that one is homosexual. Now
> rare except as passing into sense 13b.
> Perhaps influenced by the idea of social debut in sense 8c.
> 1941   G. Legman in G. W. Henry Sex Variants II. 1161   Come out, to become
> progressively more and more exclusively homosexual with experience.
> 1949   ‘Swasarnt Nerf’ in H. Hagius Gay Guides for 1949 (2010) 48   Come
> out, to be initiated into the mysteries of homosexuality.
> [...]
> b. To acknowledge or declare openly that one is homosexual. Also in
> extended use with reference to other sexual or gender identities. Cf. _to
> come out of the closet_ at _closet_ n. and adj. Phrases 2a.
> 1971   Observer 17 Jan. 3/1   ‘I enjoy my double life,’ said a delicate
> youth wearing a gold chain belt in a Chelsea pub, ‘I don't want to come
> out.’
> 1974   Win 3 Oct. 10/2   The conference..was a very special occasion for
> me. It was the time when I came out as a bisexual.
> [...]
> ----
> So "come out as a Republican (etc.)" long predates the coming-out-as-gay
> usage, though latter may inflect the interpretation of the former these
> days.
> --bgz
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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