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

Mark Mandel markamandel at GMAIL.COM
Sun Dec 5 04:24:20 UTC 2021

Good find, Fred!

Mark Mandel

On Sat, Dec 4, 2021, 9:32 AM Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:

> The Oxford English Dictionary's earliest citation for the word "gay"
> meaning "homosexual" is dated 1934.  This citation derives from the Ernest
> Burgess Papers at the University of Chicago Library, and was brought to the
> attention of the OED by me.
> I now notice what appears to be a 1933 citation for this sense of "gay."
> The Archives of Sexuality and Gender database created by the Gale company
> includes a typescript essay by Greg Sprague, titled "On the 'Gay Side' of
> Town: The Nature and Structure of Male Homosexuality in Chicago,
> 1890-1935."  On page 22 of this typescript, Sprague wrote the following:
> "A gay identity and group consciousness existed among many of the men who
> participated in the Chicago subculture.  This group consciousness was more
> than just the self-awareness that they, by desiring same-sex relations,
> were different from the general population; in addition, it was an
> awareness that they belonged to a separate category of people which they
> often labelled 'gay.'  This awareness can be seen in this brief excerpt
> from a love letter written in 1933 by a gay man in Baltimore to his friend
> Jimmy in Chicago: 'Gay People are generally people who live their own
> lives, speak their own thoughts and are in love with their own sex.'"
> Sprague footnotes the passage above to "Burgess Papers, File 98," the same
> file as the 1934 citation.
> I cannot be certain that this is a legitimate antedating of "gay" meaning
> "homosexual" without seeing the context and dating from the Burgess Papers,
> but it seems very promising.  I will attempt to investigate further.
> Fred Shapiro

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

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