[Ads-l] Antedatings of the Term "Gay" (Homosexual)

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sat Dec 21 17:25:08 UTC 2019

I am proud that my discovery of a 1934 usage of the term "gay" meaning "homosexual" has been accepted by the OED as the earliest known citation.  Acceptance by the OED is in this instance a big deal, as there are many early occurrences of the word "gay" in homosexual contexts that are too general or too ambiguous for them to accept as antedatings.

I copy below the first three fully accepted citations from the revised OED entry for this sense of "gay."  The first one, and also the third one, were contributed by me.  I also contributed to them a 1939 citation that is clearly unambiguously a usage of "gay" meaning "homosexual" but which they have not added to the entry.

1934   Let. 26 May (transcript, Univ. of Chicago Libr.: Ernest W. Burgess Papers, Box 98, Folder 11)    Yes I did hear of your gay parks and beaches... As for gay places there just aren't any in town. We generally go to Detroit.
?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.
1940   A. Bernstein Millions of Queers (typescript, National Libr. Med.: HMD Coll. MS B 198) 59   No gossiping Winchell nor encyclopedic W.P.A. guide book ever lists the gay places (using ‘gay’ in our specialized sense of ‘queer’).

The first two of these citations have the effect of lessening the importance of the controversy about Cary Grant's ad-libbed use of "gay" while wearing a women's negligee in the 1938 movie "Bringing Up Baby."

Fred Shapiro
YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)

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

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