[Ads-l] Further Antedating of the Term "Gay"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Tue Oct 13 11:43:20 UTC 2020

Let me add some more information.  In his book, Hugh Ryan discusses this Broadway Brevities article at length.  He does not indicate the term "gay" being used in the body of the article, but it may appear there.  If the term does not appear in the body, that could be significant evidence that it was already in widespread use.

Ryan states: "_Gob_ was slang for 'enlisted sailor,' and the article was a tell-all expose on queer celebrities and the bars they cruised."  He quotes the article as follows:  "The average citizen would scarcely believe his eyes had he been transported there [a bar called Frank's Place] as recently as the late spring, when the 'fleet was last in.'  Night after night, but especially on Saturdays and Sundays. anywhere from fifty to seventy-five sailors were there, and anywhere from fifty to a hundred men and boys, with painted faces and dyed tresses, singing and dancing."  Ryan writes:  "At Frank's Place, the _Brevities_ author picked up rumors from sailors from California, who talked about the 'star who likes them "salty and sea-going," and the one who owned an antique store to conceal his faggy interest in period decor."

The scene in the 1938 movie _Bringing Up Baby_, in which Cary Grant, dressed in a woman's frilly negligee, jumps in the air saying "Because I just went gay all of a sudden !", is less significant now because it is no longer the possible earliest known use of the term _gay_.  However, it is still important to Grant's biography.  Some scholars, such as Ronald Butters, have argued that the line, which Grant ad-libbed, could not have been an in-group reference to homosexuality.  But I believe the 1931 _Broadway Brevities_ article, which squarely links the expression "to go gay" with homosexuality, strengthens the case that Grant was expressing that link.

Fred Shapiro
YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)

From: Shapiro, Fred
Sent: Monday, October 12, 2020 9:15 PM
Subject: Further Antedating of the Term "Gay"

I have previously traced the term "gay," meaning homosexual, back to 1934, and that 1934 citation is now included in the OED as their earliest citation for the term.  Now I notice the following citation:

1931 _Broadway Brevities_ 2 Nov. in Hugh Ryan _When Brooklyn Was Queer_ (2019) 156   (heading) Third Sex Plague Spreads Anew ! Sissies Permeate Sublime Social Strata as Film Stars and Broadwayites Go Gay ... Brooklyn Navy Yard Center of Flagrant Camping for Gobs and Society Slummers.

I have not seen the _Broadway Brevities_ article itself.  I am aware that "to go gay" can have sexual meanings other than referring to homosexuality -- _Green's Dictionary of Slang_ has entries for it in the meaning "to commit adultery" and in the meaning "to pursue a career as a prostitute."  But the citation above seems to be clearly referring to homosexuality and the adultery and prostitution meanings do not seem applicable.

Fred Shapiro
YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS (Yale University Press)

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

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