What does the term 'gay' mean?

Since about 1960, the word "gay" is a common noun often used to refer to homosexuals of both sex: a man who is sexually attracted to men, and also less frequently a woman who is sexually attracted to women. It is also used as an adjective referring to something or someone that is somehow related to homosexuals.

If you want to talk specifically about a gay female, a more precise term is "lesbian". If you want to include all forms of sexual orientation and identification, the acronym "LGBT" (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) is preferred, or one of the other more complex acronyms based on LGBT.

The adjective "gay" has in recent years become a sort of replacement word for someone or something that is thought to be "stupid" or "lame", in expressions such as "it's so gay" that are not related to sexual preference. Because of its deprecatory undertone and the increasing acceptation of gays in the society, this usage is becoming less common.

In the past, until the 1960's, the adjective "gay" meant something quite different; it simply meant, by definition:

Showing or characterized by cheerfulness and lighthearted excitement; merry. Bright or lively, especially in color.

It is still used in that sense in expressions such as The Gay Paris, which means the worriless world of opérette, champagne and merry night life, not the world of The Birdcage.


It used to mean happy. In old English the word 'gay' did mean happy, but in last 4 decades or so people have used 'gay' to refer to a male who is attracted to other males.

Gay, n. An ornament [Obs.] --L'Estrange. [1913 Webster]

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48

Gay (g[=a]), a. [Compar. Gayer; superl. Gayest.] [F. gai, perhaps fr. OHG. g?hi swift, rapid, G. g[aum]h, j[aum]h, steep, hasty; or cf. OHG. w?hi beatiful, good. Cf. Jay.] [1913 Webster]

1. Excited with merriment; manifesting sportiveness or

delight; inspiring delight; livery; merry.

[1913 Webster]

Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay. --Pope.

[1913 Webster]

Gay hope is theirs by fancy fed. --Gray.

[1913 Webster]

2. Brilliant in colors; splendid; fine; richly dressed.

[1913 Webster]

Why is my neighbor's wife so gay? --Chaucer.

[1913 Webster]

A bevy of fair women, richly gay In gems and wanton dress! --Milton.

[1913 Webster]

3. Loose; dissipated; lewd. [Colloq.]

Syn: Merry; gleeful; blithe; airy; lively; sprightly, sportive; light-hearted; frolicsome; jolly; jovial; joyous; joyful; glad; showy; splendid; vivacious.

[1913 Webster]

-- From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48


adj 1: bright and pleasant; promoting a feeling of cheer; "a cheery

hello"; "a gay sunny room"; "a sunny smile" [syn: cheery,


2: full of or showing high-spirited merriment; "when hearts were young and gay"; "a poet could not but be gay, in such a jocund company"- Wordsworth; "the jolly crowd at the reunion"; "jolly old Saint Nick"; "a jovial old

gentleman"; "have a merry Christmas"; "peals of merry

laughter"; "a mirthful laugh" [syn: jocund, jolly, jovial,

merry, mirthful]

3: given to social pleasures often including dissipation; "led

a gay Bohemian life"; "a gay old rogue with an eye for the


4: brightly colored and showy; "girls decked out in brave new

dresses"; "brave banners flying"; "`braw' is a Scottish

word"; "a dress a bit too gay for her years"; "birds with

gay plumage" [syn: brave, braw]

5: offering fun and gaiety; "a gala ball after the

inauguration"; "a festive (or festal) occasion"; "gay and

exciting night life"; "a merry evening" [syn: gala(a), festal,

festive, merry]

6: homosexual or arousing homosexual desires [syn: queer, homophile(a)]

n : someone who practices homosexuality; having a sexual

attraction to persons of the same sex [syn: homosexual,


-- From WordNet (r) 2.0

198 Moby Thesaurus words for "gay":

AC-DC, abandoned, addled, alert, amphierotic, animate, animated,

antic, autoerotic, beaming, beatific, beatified, beery, bemused,

besotted, bisexed, bisexual, blessed, blind drunk, blissful,

blithe, blithesome, boon, brash, brave, bravura, braw, bright,

bright-hued, brilliant, bubbling, bubbly, buoyant, burning, butch,

cant, capering, capersome, carefree, cheerful, chichi, chipper,

chirping, colorful, colory, coltish, confident, convivial,

crapulent, crapulous, dancing, daring, dashing, debauched,

debonair, deep-colored, deviant, devil-may-care, dissipated,

dissolute, dizzy, drenched, dressy, drunk, drunken, effeminate,

effervescent, exhibitionistic, exotic, exuberant, far-gone, fast,

festal, festive, flashing, flashy, flaunting, flushed with joy,

flustered, forward, fou, free, free and easy, frilly, frisky,

frolicsome, frothy, full, full of beans, gala, gallant, gamesome,

garish, gaudy, gay-colored, giddy, glad, gladsome, gleeful,

glittering, glorious, glowing, gorgeous, hail-fellow-well-met,

happy, hearty, high-colored, high-spirited, hilarious, homoerotic,

homophile, homosexual, in liquor, inebriate, inebriated, inebrious,

intense, intoxicated, inverted, jaunty, jazzy, jocund, jolly,

jovial, joyful, joyous, jubilant, keen, laughing, leaping, lesbian,

licentious, light-hearted, lighthearted, lively, mannish,

many-colored, maudlin, mellow, merry, merrymaking, mirthful,

muddled, nappy, on the loose, overweening, perverted, playful,

presuming, profligate, purring, pushful, pushy, queer, radiant,

raffish, rakehell, rakehellish, rakehelly, rakish, reeling, rich,

rich-colored, rollicking, rollicksome, rompish, sapphic,

self-assertive, shikker, showy, singing, skittish, smiling,

smirking, snazzy, sodden, sotted, sparkling, spirited, splashy,

splurgy, sportive, sporty, sprightly, starry-eyed, thrice happy,

tiddly, tipsy, transvestite, tribadistic, unbridled,

under the influence, vital, vivacious, vivid, wild, zestful,


-- From Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0

Gay, GA (town, FIPS 32384)

Location: 33.09367 N, 84.57400 W

Population (1990): 133 (64 housing units)

Area: 2.0 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)

Gay, MI

Zip code(s): 49945

Gay, WV

Zip code(s): 25244

-- From U.S. Gazetteer (1990)

Gay, GA -- U.S. town in Georgia

Population (2000): 149

Housing Units (2000): 69

Land area (2000): 0.860788 sq. miles (2.229431 sq. km)

Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km)

Total area (2000): 0.860788 sq. miles (2.229431 sq. km)

FIPS code: 32384

Located within: Georgia (GA), FIPS 13

Location: 33.093797 N, 84.573924 W

ZIP Codes (1990):

Note: some ZIP codes may be omitted esp. for suburbs.


Gay, GA


-- From U.S. Gazetteer Places (2000)