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

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sun Jan 6 22:24:58 UTC 2019

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
Subject: Re: Antedating (by the OED) of "Gay" (Homosexual)

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


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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