September 15, 2010
The more you know how people speak and the cultural contexts of types of languages that have cropped up, the better a writer you can be, um especially since the gay mafia now owns Hollywood.
Polari – the language of the gay sailors below:
So, let’s learn some Polari, ie. Lavender Linguistics. You can even go to a conference about it at American University.
This article was lifted str8:
Back in the 1950s it was the language of the gay community, a secret code that could help you pull – and keep you out of prison. Now, writes Liz Gill, it’s making a comeback.
Polari: “Ooh vada well the omee-palone ajax who just trolled in – she’s got nanti taste, dear, cod lally-drags and the naff riah but what a bona eek. Fantabulosa!” Translation: “Have a good look at that homosexual nearby who just came in. He’s got no taste – awful trousers and tasteless hair – but what a lovely face. Absolutely fabulous!”
John Foster would not need the above translation. As a steward in the 1950s merchant navy he spoke Polari every day for seven years, at sea and on shore. For him and thousands of other gay men it was both a means of expression and a protective code.
“Everything was illegal in those days and you had to be very careful,” he recalls. “I always looked straight, I never minced about, so dropping in the odd Polari word would be a way of checking the other person out. If you liked the look of someone at the theatre, you might say to them, ‘That was a bona scene, wasn’t it?’ If they were straight they wouldn’t pick up on it but if they were gay there might be a shriek of recognition: ‘She’s camp, this one.'”
Now 72 and a retired electronics supervisor living in Southend, Foster rarely speaks Polari apart from the odd word with old friends. Until recently it could have been expected to die out with his generation. Today, however, there is an upsurge of interest in what has become known as “lavender linguistics”. Paul Baker, a lecturer at Lancaster University, has been researching the dialect for six years and has written three books on the subject, including a dictionary of more than 200 words and phrases.
“I first heard Polari when the Julian and Sandy tapes from Round the Horne were re-released,” he says. “I thought Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick were incredibly funny but it also seemed extraordinary for them to be using this gay slang in a Sunday afternoon family programme back in the 60s. As I tried to find out more about this language, I discovered that almost nothing had been written down. A piece of history was going to be lost before long if we didn’t preserve it.”
Ads in the gay press, and “generally making a nuisance of myself everywhere I went”, produced nearly two dozen interviewees aged from 50 upwards. “All of them remembered it fondly, even proudly. They’d been taught it by older men almost as a way of passing down the values of gay subculture from one generation to the next. They were also often given camp names, usually women’s, as if they were being given a new identity and a sense of belonging.”
The origins of Polari probably lie in the 19th-century slang Parlyaree used by fairground and circus people, as well as prostitutes and beggars, and it also has links to the older vocabularies of other stigmatised groups or outsiders such as thieves’ cant, cockney rhyming slang, yiddish and the lingua franca of sailors. Usage reached its peak in the repressive 1950s when being gay was illegal and dangerous: men lived in constant fear of blackmail, exposure and the humiliation of electric shock and hormone “treatments”, as well as imprisonment. The fact that the spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean were gay further fuelled public paranoia.
“A language that protected you and acted as a kind of ‘gaydar’ was very useful,” says Baker. “It was also a way of poking fun at that repressive society. Using feminised names like Hilda Handcuffs or Jennifer Justice for the police was a way of removing some of their power. Being ironic, blase, making a joke was a way of coping. It was also very frank: it had to invent words for practices for which there were no heterosexual equivalents.”
By the 1960s, the political climate had begun to change and Polari became less concerned with cautious contact-making, and more about gossiping with friends, particularly about potential sexual partners.
Chris Monk, a 64 year-old former nurse from Chelmsford, learned it in his late teens. “It’s an age when your brain just soaks up information, but the words were generally short and easy to remember anyway. There was something joyful about it, and it felt very daring. You could say ‘bona cartes’ (‘good cock’) in a crowded pub without anyone else twigging.
“You can be very bitchy in Polari, sometimes just by changing your tone. If you say ‘vada that eek’ in a high-pitched, excited sort of way it’s praise; if you say it in a slow drawl it’s derogatory. But there aren’t many words for emotions: they had to be kept buttoned up. You made light of your feelings because displaying them would attract attention and arouse suspicion.”
The Julian and Sandy sketches were in effect the language’s swansong. “They rather gave the game away,” says Baker. “What was the point in using Polari if Aunt Beryl listened to Round the Horne and was able to get the gist of what you were saying?”
The fact that there was no great outcry – indeed the show drew audiences of nine million at its height – also suggested that the climate was changing. In 1967 the recommendations of the Wolfenden report were implemented and homosexuality largely decriminalised. The removal of the need for secrecy was followed by a backlash against the old camp stereotypes.
“The gay liberation movement saw a swing to the other extreme,” says Baker. “Everything had to be very masculine and butch, so a generation gap developed.”
Today, however, there is increasing interest among gays in their cultural background. When the Brighton-based organisation Glam (Gay and Lesbian Arts and Media) held a Polari event recently they expected only older men to turn up. In fact, says Joan Beveridge, “it was interesting to see how many young men in their 20s came. It was as if they wanted to acknowledge the historical element in their community and that something like Polari helped form it.
“Some people say, why bother if it’s lost, we don’t need it now, we’re all accepted. Others argue that it’s part of our history – and besides, circumstances can change and one day a secret language might be needed again.”
Some pink parlance
Bona: good or well
Cod, coddy: bad or amateurish
Dally: sweet, kind
Dish: 1. Anus; 2. Attractive man
Drogle: a dress
Eek: a face
Joshed up: looking your best
Naff: 1. Tasteless; 2. Heterosexual, possibly an acronym for not available for fucking
Nanti: none or nothing. Eg, Nanti dinarly: no money. Nanti worster: no worse. Nanti pots in the cupboard: no teeth
Screech: mouth or face
Sharda: what a pity
Sheesh: showy, fussy or unnecessarily affected
Vogue: a cigarette
· Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang by Paul Baker, Continuum £12.99. Polari: the Lost Language of Gay Men, Routledge £55 .Glam: 01273 707963.
September 14, 2010
Hey homeskillet, add these to your vocab.
Made up words:
stuff from The Future Dictionary of America
and new words in Latin from the dudes over at The Vatican.
Et tu, Brutus?, I mean bro.
New dictionaries, but no more Oxford English in print. Times, they are a changing.
And now a 3-D television network– Ray Bradbury- you really are right, Farenheit 451 is right around the corner.
Soon, our eyes will be all crossed and we won’t be able to understand each other because we’ll be talking in hybrid words.