Word and Phrase Origins
Gay Lesbian and Bisexual

When did the word gay start to mean homosexual?

Top Answer
User Avatar
Wiki User
Answered 2017-03-27 12:48:14

The "Dictionary of American Slang" reports that gay (adj.) was used by homosexuals, among themselves, in this sense since at least 1920.

Rawson ["Wicked Words"] notes a male prostitute using gay in reference to male homosexuals (but also to female prostitutes) in London's notorious Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889.

Ayto ["20th Century Words"] calls attention to the ambiguous use of the word in the 1868 song "The Gay Young Clerk in the Dry Goods Store," by U.S. female impersonator Will S. Hays.

The word gay in the 1890s had an tinge of promiscuity, a gay house was a brothel.

The suggestion of immorality in the word can be traced back to 1637.

Gay as a noun meaning "a (usually male) homosexual" is attested from 1971.

This happened around the late 60s early 70s rather then use the word homosexual they used the word gay because it sounds a lot better.

I think it is just because the want to be happy. They want be able to be happy with the person they love


The term "GAY" to imply homosexuality was correctly started with LIBERACE in the late 1950's.

The Pianist LIBERACE (Lee) sued the London "Daily Mirror" & the US "Confidential" for defamation. Calling him a "fruit flavor man" they both insinuated that he was homosexual. Liberace won his lawsuits.

Journalists afraid to also be sued, continue to mock him, but instead referred to Liberace as ... being light and "GAY".

They had dare to borrow it from LIBERACE'S very own TV Show Theme-Song:

I'LL BE SEEING YOU ... (in everything that's light & GAY, I'll always THINK OF YOU THAT WAY).

How could Liberace now possibly sue them, if he himself, uses that term on his own TV Show.

The (wink-wink) veiled insinuation gained momentum with time and the new meaning became popular by 1970.
These types of questions can be very difficult to answer, as through-out history, the meaning of words can tend to change or be used in different context.

The term gay was originally used to refer to feelings of being "carefree", "happy", or "bright and showy"; it had also come to acquire some connotations of "immorality" as early as 1637.

The term "gay" as used to reference "male homosexuality" may date as early as the 19th-Century. It's use gradually increased in the 20th-Century.

First let's look at the word, Homosexual, is a Greek and Latin hybrid with the first element derived fromt he Greekὁμός homos "same" (not related to the Latin homo, "man" as in Homo Sapiens) thus connoting affections between members of the same sex, including lesbianism.

The first known appearance of "homosexual" in print is found in an 1869 pamplet by the Austrian-born novelist Karl-Maria Kertbeny, publish anonymously, arguing against Prussian anti-sodomy laws. In 1879, Gustav Jager used Kertbeny's terms in his book, "Discovery of Soul" (1880). In 1886 Richard Von Krafft-Ebing used the terms homosexual and heterosexual in his book Psycopathia Sexuals, probably borrowing them for Jager. Krafft-Ebing's book was so popular among both layman and doctors that the terms "heterosexual" and "homosexual" became the most widely accepted terms for sexual orientation.

As such, the current use of the term has its roots in the broader 19th-Century tradition of personality taxonomy.

Note that the term homosexual was used to describe anything of "one sex" orientation, such as an all girl or all boys school, though not related to one's sexual orientation. Today,the term is exclusively used to describe sexual orientation and the term "homosocial" is now used to describe single-sex contexts that are not specifically sexual.

The term gay was originally used, until well into the mid-20th century, primarily to refer to feelings of being "carefree," "happy," or "bright and showy"; it had also come to acquire some sexual connotations as early as 1637. The term then began to be used in reference to homosexuality, in particular, from the early 20th century, a usage that may have dated prior to the 19th century.

In modern English gay has come to be used as an adjective (occasionally even as a noun) that refers primarily to homosexuality. The newer meaning of "homosexual" was used simultaneously with the old meaning of "happy" from around 1960 to 1970.

By the end of the 20th century the word gay was recommended by major style guides to describe people attracted to members of the same sex.

At about the same time a new, pejorative use was visible in some parts of the world. In the UK and the US, this connotation, among younger generations of speakers had a non-sexual derisive meaning equivalent to rubbish or stupid (as in "That's so gay.").

Starting in the 21st Century, the older meaning of "happy" has fallen out of use, and is pretty much unknown except among older adults.

User Avatar

Your Answer

Still Have Questions?

Related Questions

What is the slang word for gay?

Gay is a slang word for homosexual

Another word for gay?


What is a big word for gay?


What does mancoca mean?

Mancoca is a less offensive way to substitute for the word homosexual or gay.

What does gay mean in latin?

There is no Latin word "gay". The English word "gay" is "hilaris" in Latin, although this is likely to refer to the old-fashioned meaning of "gay" as happy, as opposed to homosexual.

Why is the word gay used for the homosexual males?

The use of gay to mean "homosexual" was in origin merely an extension of the word's sexualized connotation of "carefree and uninhibited" (around the turn of the 20th Century), which implied a willingness to disregard conventional or respectable sexual mores.

What you another word for gay?

homosexual, homophile

What does the name gay mean?

happy or homosexual

What Does Gay Mean For A Girl?

The word gay is usually used for homosexual men. For women the word lesbian is used.That means they fall in love with other women and not men.

Where does the word 'gay' for 'homosexual' originate?

The word "gay" first appeared in English in the 12th century, and was used to mean "happy", "carefree", "joyful", and "bright and showy". By 1637 "gay" had connotations of immorality. Prostitutes were sometimes known as "gay ladies" and calling a man "gay" meant he was a womanizer. The first documented use of "gay" to mean homosexual was in the 1920s and it's possible it was used in the late 1800s. The first movie to use "gay" to mean homosexual was "Bringing Up Baby" in 1938. By the 1950s "gay" was firmly associated with hedonism and uninhibited behavior. In the 1960s it began being applied to homosexuals, and by the 1970s and 80s the old meaning of "happy and carefree" had fallen by the wayside.

What is the Japanese word for homosexual?

okama is a somewhat derrogatory word for gay people.

What does schwul mean?

Schwul = queer, gay, homosexual

Are rabits gay?

If you mean Happy. Most of the time. If you mean homosexual. No.

Is it wrong to use the word gay to describe a homosexual?

No, "gay" is the correct term.In fact it's the other way around. Using the word "homosexual" as a noun is considered outdated and inflammatory.

What is the spanish word for gay?

gay = homosexual in Spanish (the h is silent). Spanish speaking people also use the English word "gay".

What does straight mean as in gay or not?

"Straight" means heterosexual, and "gay" means homosexual. They are opposites.

Gay means happy?

Gay used a certain way can mean happy or homosexual

What was the name for a gay man before they started using the term 'gay'?

Uh... Homo or homosexual i think. The word "gay" used to mean something like "happy". Example: they were having fun, happy and gay.

What does bumperclut mean?

A derogatory meaning for gay homosexual men

What does i think I am straight mean?

"Straight" in this context would mean heterosexual. "Gay" is the slang for homosexual.

Is it correct to say homo or homosexual?

Neither is correct.In general, both of these are terms to be avoided. Use the word gay instead. While some gay people do not mind "homo" or "homosexual," the word "gay" is the more widely accepted term.

When a person is called a gayelord or you're such a gaylord what does it mean?

Well usually people use it as an insult meaning your really gay but not gay in the sense homosexual more just to be mean. It is very demeaning to people who are actually gay as in homosexual.

What does sexual gay mean?

Homosexual. the word originally just meant happy or in a fun-loving mood- as it does in famous Confederate song.

Does gay mean happy or if you are a man who likes a man?

Originally the word 'gay' meant happy or whimsical. By the early 20th century, it also took on a sexual connotation. By the 1960's it meant both happy and homosexual. Today the word only means homosexual, since no one uses it any more to mean happy.

Is 'gay' the official word for 'homosexual' or is it just slang?

Language is constantly changing. "Homosexual" refers to sexual activity between two people of the same sex, so -- strictly speaking -- saying "That person is a homosexual" would be like looking at a firefighter and saying, "That person is a fire." In general usage, "a homosexual" may refer to a male or a female. Until the 1960's, the word "gay" was used to refer to a homosexual person of either sex. Now, "gay" refers almost always to a gay male; homosexual females are "lesbians." At this time in the US, the preferred phrase (assuming you are referring to homosexual people in general) is "gay and lesbian" or "lesbian and gay." "Homosexual" is used only as an adjective to describe particular sexual acts. Once again, though, language is constantly changing.

Still have questions?