Losing a once-useful adjective . . .

Gay Evolution

© Conrad Weisert
February 26, 2014

This article may be circulated freely as long as the copyright notice is included.

gay, adj;  1.  Excited with merriment; manifesting or inclined to sportiveness or delight; merry.
2.   Bright and lively in appearance; brilliant in color; as gay plummage; also, showily dressed; as a gay fop.
3.   Of quality: First-class; fine, Obs.
4.   Of rhetoric, reasoning, etc.: Showy; specious.
5.   Given to social pleasures or indulgence; hence, loose; licentious; as, to lead a gay life.
6.  Of quantity and number, considerable; tolerable; fair. Scot & N. of Eng.
7.   Of health: Good; well. Chiefly Dial.
Syn.—Gleeful, blithe, airy, sprightly, vivacious, sportive, lighthearted, frolicsome, jolly, jovial, joyful, joyous, glad, gaudy, splendid.
Ant.—Sad, morose, unhappy, miserable, downcast.

Webster's New International Dictionary, second edition, unabridged, 1957

That was then.   Later dictionaries have added "homosexual" as another meaning, and that meaning has driven out the original ones in common usage. For a time dictionaries labeled that usage "slang", and it was even considered offensive. Now, however, it has become so firmly established that some people consider that to be the primary meaning of the word, and some dictionaries have dropped the designation.

We've heard of bewildered young people emerging from a showing of the classic film The Gay Divorcée observing that the movie never really made clear that Ginger Rogers was gay. Perhaps the theater should have booked a double feature with Our Hearts Were Young and Gay.1 Young people might wonder how their great grandparents survived the Gay Nineties or their honeymoon in Gay Paree.

A recent contributor to the normally serious Wikipedia felt obliged to begin an article about a New York landmark with this absurd and presumably unnecessary disclaimer:

Gay Street is a short, crooked street that marks off one block of Greenwich Village in the New York City borough of Manhattan.   Contrary to its name, it does not refer to LGBT issues.

We can no longer use the word in its original sense without risking confusion, serious misunderstanding, or even offense by our audience. I don't use it any more in either sense.


1—Other films that, as far as I know, were not about homsexuality include:

Last modified March 11, 2014

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