Friday, March 14, 2008

He means what he says and he says what he means

"Sophia, as you well know, followed me to India. She was as innocent as gay; but, unfortunately for us both, as gay as innocent." - Walter Scott, Guy Mannering

I rather think that the old meaning of the word 'gay' is holding up rather well along with the new meaning, since jokes like this still present themselves as obvious. And there are just too many examples of the old meaning of 'gay' in centuries of literature for it to be entirely subsumed in the new word.

*Does his best to look wise and knowledgeable and goes back to puffing ruminatively on his pipe full of soap bubbles.*


alexis said...

Dunno how acquainted Sir Walter was with the colloquial usage of "gay" in the early nineteenth century, but even back then, when used of a woman, it could indicate that she was living by prostitution. As in J. Davis' Post-Captain (1805): "As our heroes passed along the Strand, they were accosted by a hundred gay ladies, who asked them if they were good-natured... ‘Devil take me!..there is not a girl in the Strand that I would touch with my gloves on.’"

Proserpine said...

Ah, Alexis and I have the same impulse! It's interesting that the OED gives Stein in 1922 as the earliest occurrence of "gay" as "homosexual". And they're very decisive about earlier occurrences: "A number of quotations have been suggested as early attestations of this sense (see a sample below). It is likely that, although there may be innuendo in some cases, these have been interpreted anachronistically in the light either of the context... or of knowledge about an author's sexuality". But the way Stein uses it makes it clear that it's been in general use at least for some time.

Pity me, Tim. I spotted the turn off for Abbotsford as I made my way to Edinburgh, I let out an almightly roar of "Stop!" and it was closed (and I think others, who had previously denied me the third and final stop on the Wordsworth triple pack, were relieved!).

TimT said...

Oh, silly me. Here I am puffing my soap bubbles and not offering anyone else any. Anyone like to smoke the soapy pipe of peace?

Thank you for these informative comments. I'd imagine that the word became popularly associated with homosexuality during the subsequent movements of sexual liberation in the 1960s through to the present, as a result of political agitation/public demonstrations, etc.

Caz said...

The gay ladies association is interesting, but equally interesting is the notion that men who might frequent with gay ladies were "good natured".

Steve said...

Take Bill Clinton's advice and don't inhale, Tim

Maria said...

Caz, the Gay Ladies' Association is indeed very interesting.

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