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quentin75

Senior Member
france
I've just read in the gay French mag "Tetu" that in the UK and the US the word "gay" tends to be now used in a pejorative way like "it's so gay" = it's so bad. Is it true it has become an adjective referring not only to homosexual but also to something bad?
 
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  • HogansIslander

    Senior Member
    English, Canada
    I don't think is a new usage at all - it was definitely common at least in the 1980's when I was in primary school, although it might mean something more like "stupid, waste of time, boring", rather than "bad". "Star Trek is such a gay TV show", for example.

    I'd say it is probably actually less common these days, at least in my experience, since it is less socially acceptable to make these kind of remarks. To my ears the expression sounds a little bit dated.
     

    quentin75

    Senior Member
    france
    Oh ok!! Thanks, but while using this word do people think "homosexual" in the same time, I mean does "gay/boring" comes from the fact that people think gay people are boring or is it just the same word with no link between them?
     
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    cjwoodso

    Senior Member
    English,Castellano, Perú
    I think the word just came about from the fad of saying the opposite of what one means. such as saying bad and meaning good. "That was a bad movie" meaning it was a great movie.
     

    HogansIslander

    Senior Member
    English, Canada
    I think a lot of people may use it without directly associating it with homosexuality - as a kid I don't think that I did - this may just have been childish naivete however :) My suspicion however is that its history is related to the insult of gay as "effeminate", then being broadened into a more generic disparaging term. Just a guess though.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    In my opinion "that's so gay" is the kind of spontaneous rebellion that occurs when elitists try to dictate language use, whether for Political Correctitude or any other reason.

    It isn't "homophobic," but it is a reaction against the culture of all-acceptance that is promulgated in U.S. public schools. "Doesn't mean he's not a nice person," and all that.

    It's just a short step from there to "it does mean that he is a nice person." Derogatory opinion of the slightest degree is strengst verboten in the social-engineering atmosphere imposed on children in school-- and they rebel against it by using officially-anointed euphemisms in a derogatory fashion.

    It'll be fun to see what the next step in the game is. In U.S. universities the word queer has been adopted as an acceptable word, with almost honorific connotations-- whereas it used to be a fairly strong slur.

    It'd be funny if totally bland, bourgeois, conventional, conformist and unimaginitive behavior was scoffed at by young people-- with a hearty "that's so queer!"

    Imposing euphemisms is like trying to get people to use your own hand-picked nickname for yourself. They're either going to come up with one you don't like-- or say it with an inflection that offends your ear.
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    . 1

    Banned
    Australian Australia
    It is quite common among school kids in Australia.
    From the context I have heard it has nothing to do with sexuality.
    I think that cjwoodso is correct in that it is an opposite use word.
    Everybody knows the original meaning of gay as being happy or carefree and the kids have picked up on that.
    Gay is a wonderful word and may be re-entering the lexicon via our youff.

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    chloffers

    Member
    English, USA
    Definitely when I was a kid it was used a lot. And (this has just been because I grew up in an extremely repressive area) I think it very much had to do with gay=bad. Over the years I think it's lost some of its nasty origins and I hear gay people using it not infrequently now. But I think in the beginning, in my part of the world, it was deeply homophobic.
     
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    mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    Having a nephew who is gay, I took offense to the remark on his behalf when I first heard it. To me it had sexual meaning, and to my ears the remark sounded like a slam to whatever was being discussed and a slam to gays at the same time.
     

    Iona

    Senior Member
    English England
    In my opinion "that's so gay" is the kind of spontaneous rebellion that occurs when elitists try to dictate language use, whether for Political Correctitude or any other reason.

    For me the question is 'does language reflect society' or ' does language prevent change of preconceived ideas about certain groups in society'
    The average intelligent (?) white, heterosexual , healthy, above average height ,male has maybe never had to think about how words can affect people -his physical appearance is rarely at the receiving end of jokes e.g think of the hundreds of words to describe a sexually 'free' woman .. then find the equivalents for men ..play boy, gigalo etc not too nasty eh ,or the physically and mentally challenged etc For me to use the word 'gay' is insulting ..even if it is used in a joking manner it is ,maybe even subconsciously, negative .It is as insulting as calling someone short ass , spastic, nigger, to be jewish (for mean) a slut , gay etc even if the speaker doesn't 'mean 'it .. it still hurts .For me 'Political Correctitude' is not such a bad thing ...
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    In my opinion "that's so gay" is the kind of spontaneous rebellion that occurs when elitists try to dictate language use, whether for Political Correctitude or any other reason.

    It isn't "homophobic," but it is a reaction against the culture of all-acceptance that is promulgated in U.S. public schools. "Doesn't mean he's not a nice person," and all that.
    So if I said "That movie was crap, it was so black!" or "so Jewish!", would that not be racist?
    It's just a short step from there to "it does mean that he is a nice person." Derogatory opinion of the slightest degree is strengst verboten in the social-engineering atmosphere imposed on children in school-- and they rebel against it by using officially-anointed euphemisms in a derogatory fashion.
    I think you're reading way to much into this. Why aren't they walking round saying "that fashion is so my two mummies" or "don't worry about her she's just being dyslexic" or "tennis is bloody paraplegic!". If they did they would just sound like insults not a post-modern reaction. And what do you mean by euphemism? What is "gay" an officially-anointed euphemism for?
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Yes--in fact, the decade from 1890 to 1900 was called the Gay Nineties.
    I'm so old I can remember when gay meant carefree.

    The introductory song to the original Flintstones cartoons, which ran from 1960-66, contained the line: We'll have a gay old time.

    In the mid-60s the pop group Hermans Hermits could sing in No milk to-day: The company was gay, we turned night into day.

    If my younger son [18] says something is "gay", it means it is rubbish.
    Gay has been used with this meaning in South Park.

    I'm sure it has nothing to do with "homophobia".
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    So if I said "That movie was crap, it was so black!" or "so Jewish!", would that not be racist?
    Well, I don't think this line of argument addresses the point I was making. True, I don't think "that's so gay" is "homophobic" even though it's derogatory. I don't think the disrespect being shown is aimed at the people-- it's a rejection of the euphemism.

    It's a development among young people, I'm just giving my take on it. I'm not the only one in this thread that didn't think the expression was anti-homosexual.

    And yes, it's a euphemism. 40 years ago the Civil Rights movement was a breakthrough, and the first in a number of upheavals and social overturnings-- all aimed against bigotry and beyond, against authority itself in many cases.

    I was part of the Counterculture, aka "Youth Movement," and I can tell you that a number of mitigated terms were coined at that time, and older terms discarded-- some derogatory, some not.

    The idea was that if we can get people talking in less-derogatory language, we can inculcate an attitude of greater tolerance, and tolerant behavior will be the result.

    I now believe that that works up to a point, but as soon as you overdo it, you get rebellion among people who want to speak plainly and spontaneously-- and object to social-work-major gobbledygook like "challenged," and "community" to describe any category of people, lawbreakers for example. I react a little rebelliously to this sort of thing now-- it's gotten so bad I cringe at the word "issues."
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    Iona

    Senior Member
    English England
    I will agree with you the day that 'that's really gay ' and 'that guy's such a spastic' are compliments etc .. until then I think that using such words as terms of abuse are not helping society move towards acceptance and tolerance..they are holding certain groups of society back...
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Well, I don't think this line of argument addresses the point I was making. True, I don't think "that's so gay" is "homophobic" even though it's derogatory. I don't think the disrespect being shown is aimed at the people-- it's a rejection of the euphemism.
    Well, to be fair to me;), you didn't actually give any linked argument on this point, you said -
    It isn't "homophobic," but it is a reaction against the culture of all-acceptance that is promulgated in U.S. public schools.
    You gave no reason why it's not homophobic to use a term which is a common word simply to mean "homosexual" as a term meaning bad. Maybe I wasn't clear enough in how I interpreted what you said - my question is - if it is not homophobic to use "gay" in that way is it not racist to use the terms "black" or "Jewish" in the same way? (You rightly guess that I myself would answer "it is racist" to that, but I'm interested how you think it could not be).
    It's a development among young people, I'm just giving my take on it. I'm not the only one in this thread that didn't think the expression was anti-homosexual.
    Well, as I say, why not? I think you are saying that when someone calls something "gay" meaning bad it's not crossing their minds to comment on homosexuality either way. Maybe so - but then maybe we have a different interpretation of the word "homophobic" (and equally "racist" I would therefore guess). It is at least indirectly homophobic to do that. If I were to hear - completely inventing a situation and an attitude that I don't have - a really tacky song and say in a whithering British accent "hmmm, how American" then even though I might not be really thinking about what I'm saying and have lots of American friends I respect and am a bit stupid, would that not be racist? It seems to me a perfect parallel to this subject.
    And yes, it's a euphemism. 40 years ago the Civil Rights movement was a breakthrough, and the first in a number of upheavals and social overturnings-- all aimed against bigotry and beyond, against authority itself in many cases.

    I was part of the Counterculture, aka "Youth Movement," and I can tell you that a number of mitigated terms were coined at that time, and older terms discarded-- some derogatory, some not.

    The idea was that if we can get people talking in less-derogatory language, we can inculcate an attitude of greater tolerance, and tolerant behavior will be the result.
    I repeat - what is "gay" a euphemism for? As far as I am aware it is a synonym of "homosexual" I am honestly not aware of it being a euphemism for anything, and I severely doubt that any playground use is such.
    I now believe that that works up to a point, but as soon as you overdo it, you get rebellion among people who want to speak plainly and spontaneously-- and object to social-work-major gobbledygook like "challenged," and "community" to describe any category of people, lawbreakers for example. I react a little rebelliously to this sort of thing now-- it's gotten so bad I cringe at the word "issues."
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    This does seem to come down to the amount of offence that each of us takes at this usage - which I do agree isn't directly homophobic. I know someone who hates hates hates hip-hop music. If it comes on he says, without any rancour whatsoever, "aaargh turn that bloody nig-nog music off". This offends me so much it makes me cringe - and I know that it does other friends because we are just left aghast. Despite that comment, there is not a racist bone in his body - but I don't think that makes it right - propogating hate, even indirectly, seems wrong to me.

    Edit - as I've written this Iona has posted, and said what I have tried to say in 300 words in one sentence!
     

    HistofEng

    Senior Member
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole
    I agree with Timpaec and Iona on this one. I think "that's so gay" definitely stems from homophobia, and that this expression and sexuality are linked. When a friend calls another friend "gay" (in the boring, stupid sense, knowing full well his friend is not gay)...the friend usually feels really slighted and senses an attack on his sexuality (and as a rebuttal might even bring up a situation when the agressor's sexuality was in question)...I've seen this so many times.

    And it's not a coincidence that this expression is mostly used between straight men.

    (I'm not saying that the expression always shows expressed homophobia, but imo it has definitely stemmed and blossomed from the perception of a certain group of people's sexuality)
     

    Old Novice

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    [I don't know how to include the quote from the initial post too, regarding Political Correctitute, but I comment on that part below, too. - O.N.]

    And yes, it's a euphemism. 40 years ago the Civil Rights movement was a breakthrough, and the first in a number of upheavals and social overturnings-- all aimed against bigotry and beyond, against authority itself in many cases.

    I was part of the Counterculture, aka "Youth Movement," and I can tell you that a number of mitigated terms were coined at that time, and older terms discarded-- some derogatory, some not.

    The idea was that if we can get people talking in less-derogatory language, we can inculcate an attitude of greater tolerance, and tolerant behavior will be the result.

    I now believe that that works up to a point, but as soon as you overdo it, you get rebellion among people who want to speak plainly and spontaneously-- and object to social-work-major gobbledygook like "challenged," and "community" to describe any category of people, lawbreakers for example. I react a little rebelliously to this sort of thing now-- it's gotten so bad I cringe at the word "issues."
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    Firefoxbrand, as a contemporary, :) I just have to say that while we've made enormous progress since the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, we have one devil of a long way still to go, particularly in the area of gay rights. The problem with decrying "Political Correctitude" because it sometimes seems ridiculous or because of perceptions about the nature of people who advocate it, is that sometimes it is not ridiculous. Nor does the nature of those who advocate it automatically make it wrong. (Since I'm a Massachusetts native by choice, I probably belong to the group of "elitists" to whose efforts you refer; but my ideas should stand or fall without regard to whether I'm an Eastern elitist or the rural Westerner I began as. :))

    To my ear, use of "gay" as a synonym for "bad" may or may not be consciously homophobic, but has that effect regardless of its intent. Suicide among gay teenagers occurs at several times the rate it does among straight teenagers. "Gay"="Bad" is a message that occurs over and over again in the U.S., all too often from figures of authority. I think the usage that is the subject of this thread should be deplored by everyone, and that people using it should be confronted about the potential harm it does.

    Of course, I agree with you that this will lead to rebellion among the young, for a while. But the young ususally outgrow rebellion and remember the values they were taught, if people take the time to do the teaching.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Of course, I agree with you that this will lead to rebellion among the young, for a while. But the young ususally outgrow rebellion and remember the values they were taught, if people take the time to do the teaching.
    Well then, we agree on the one and only point I was making-- until you add the "for a while" and the part about kids
    "outgrowing it."

    I don't disagree with your optimism, I just didn't include any opinion toward the word-coinage in my post.

    And Tim, I don't honestly know what your sticking point is with my use of "euphemism" instead of "synonym." Are you really quizzing me on whether I know that "gay" means "homosexual?"

    I can only imagine we have a different take on the word euphemism. Mine isn't influenced much by the etymology, for one thing. Just because one societal faction (social engineers, not gay people) decide we need a "nicer word" for something-- doesn't mean the original word, or the thing it denotes, is "bad."

    The Victorians had euphemisms aplenty, and the one cited so often is instructive here-- people were supposed to stop calling furniture parts "legs" and refer to them as "limbs."

    For me, since you press so insistently for an answer, I'd have to say "gay" is a euphemism for any other word meaning homosexual, including "homosexual." It covers words that are slurs, can be taken as slurs, and words that ought to be "clinical" but can sound offensive if pronounced sneeringly.

    I remember when black was promulgated as a euphemism for Negro, an act of deliberate inversion-- the "polite" term being replaced by one which had theretofore been considered rude. I bought that one and still like it, mostly because it's simple, monosyllabic-- and analogous to white, whose use goes unabated.

    The argument was made at the time (when Negro was a euphemism for black), that it was insulting to Negros to imply that blackness even needed a euphemism. Didn't that imply that being black was a bad thing?

    Maybe your seeming objection to my statement that gay is a euphemism is in the same ballpark as that logic? I still don't understand what you're aiming at-- maybe you could explain yourself in a little greater detail, here or in a PM.
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    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Hi, FFB. Yes, you're kind of seeing what I'm getting at. For me a euphemism is a word that you use on purpose to replace another that you think may be found offensive. Therefore people don't go for a piss, they go for a pee. They get tempted to have a final drink and exclaim "what the hey". They whisper in shocked terms that little Jimmy was heard using the "F" word - what can his parents be teaching him?

    To me "gay" (and "black") are neither of these. I think they are simply synonyms of homosexual and negro. In fact they are perhaps even the usual terms. My Christian name is Timothy - many people call me Tim, but I don't think that's a euphemism.

    Were the terms "gay" and "black" coined on purpose to replace "faggot" and "nigger" or whatever? Perhaps so - you have a few years on me and more knowledge than I would have filled the missing years with anyway. However, I am certain than these terms are not used euphemistically today. Therefore to understand your argument fully I need to know what you mean by that. If you are suggesting that because playground bully Mark has been told that he must not call little Lucian a faggot because he likes ballet and knows how many stiches to drop to create a sateen weave and that he should use the politically correct term "gay" this constriction on his expression is such an outrage to him that he uses the term "gay" to describe the next rubbish film he sees as an ironic rebellion then I think you're wrong. I think that modern youngsters will view the term "gay" as the primary term for "self-sex inclined" (whatever their views of that inclination). I also think that in another context they use the term with little thought as to the fact it refers to homosexuality but unthinkingly because it has become a term to mean "rubbish". I imagine (and here of course we are really getting into the realms of supposition, but I still believe it) that it stems from overt homophobia in the first instance - the desire to prove that you are most certainly not gay. Further, I don't think that that unthinking nature is understandable or acceptable. I think Iona's comparison was great. I've grown up hearing phrases such as "Jo is such a spastic" and have certainly said that it my youth. Before the age of 10 and - years before I actually meant one or knew what it meant - I have also said "that's so Jewish!" meaning "that's so mean" without having an anti-disabled or anti-Jewish bone in my body (it was a very common thing to say when I was little, where I lived), and would have been shocked and bemused at anyone suggesting that I did. If I said such things I can be sure that most of my classmates did because I was not a trend-setter - imagine the psychological effect of that on someone who was disabled or Jewish (as in retrospect there must have been, probably).

    I guess that more than not believing in the supposed post-modern irony of using a politically correct term in a disparaging way and not believing it is a politically correct term anyway I think about the kids growing up being gay and hearing the term used as a catch-all for rubbish - the effect on their self-esteem. Actions which cause kids to feel like that are homophobic, in my opinion, whether through lack of thought (which I think it probably is) or a linguistic politically correct backlash (which I don't think it is). So no, I don't think it will be fun to see what the next step in this "game" is.

    Sorry, I know you didn't mean to cause offence, but I was a bit offended.
     

    jimreilly

    Senior Member
    American English
    I write as someone who, more than once, has had his opinion dismissed with "you're so gay" (not far from "it's so gay") by someone who knew I was. It was always said in order to dismiss my opinion without discussing it on its merits, or to get me angry enough to lose my ability to argue rationally. I don't think it had anything to do with the subversion of authority posited by foxfirebrand.

    Yes, I tend to find such expressions offensive, and claiming ignorance of the insult's origin rarely qualifies as an excuse; the claim is rarely true, for one thing.

    The elisitism/political correctness discussion is a red herring. Discouraging the use of such insults has nothing to do with elitism. Some of my friends who would fight over the words "faggot" or "nigger" are as far from elitists as you could imagine (you won't find them on this elitist forum, for example). I might be elitist, but they sure as hell aren't.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    That must have been really hurtful, Jim, but here I don't think (and you know I'm playing devil's advocate since I've been quite vocal in opposition above;)) that anyone is saying it is OK to use the term "gay" as an insult with an overt meaning of "homosexual". The point is how acceptable "gay" should be as a term to mean simply "crap" with no reference to anyone's sexuality. And I have definitely heard it used that way - the person describing whatever it is as "gay" would have been bemused to have is suggested that they were making any sort of comment on sexuality (just as my 8-year-old self would have been surprised to know that calling someone spastic for getting a sum wrong was making a reference to physical handicap (I doubt I knew what a "spastic" literally was then)).

    If someone said to you simply "you're so gay" as an end-the-argument comment then that is shocking - and meaningless. Did you ask what they meant? Would the same people say to someone from Ireland "you're so Irish" or to a stamp collector "you're such a philatelist!" - I just don't get what they could mean by that, or how they could think that is an acceptable thing to say to anyone. But, as I say above, I don't think anyone else in this thread is saying that would ever be acceptable either.
     

    Old Novice

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    The point is how acceptable "gay" should be as a term to mean simply "crap" with no reference to anyone's sexuality. And I have definitely heard it used that way - the person describing whatever it is as "gay" would have been bemused to have is suggested that they were making any sort of comment on sexuality (just as my 8-year-old self would have been surprised to know that calling someone spastic for getting a sum wrong was making a reference to physical handicap (I doubt I knew what a "spastic" literally was then)).
    I agree on the timpeac's definition of what the point has become in this thread, and I agree with jimreilly's point that political correctness and elitism are red herrings to that issue. I simply do not see how the phrase can be heard as anything but a homophobic slur by those old enough to understand it, even if the slur was uttered by someone who was too young to know the full import of the phrase he or she had learned.

    I think Iona nailed the issue. There are words that (most) parents would automatically be horrified to hear their children utter, because they are racial or ethnic slurs of the worst kind. The fact that those words change from time to time is irrelevant to the impact of the word on today's affected listener.

    To me, equating "gay" with "crap" is just such a problem today, more so than most precisely because open and unashamed homophobia is far more prevalent today than open and unashamed racism. So my answer to timpeac's formulation of the question is, no, it's never acceptable.
     

    jimreilly

    Senior Member
    American English
    Thanks, Timpeac--

    I guess I don't think it's acceptable, if that's the question. While it may sometimes be said in innocence or ignorance, I don't think that's really often the case in an age when (in the USA, at least) the word "gay" meaning sexual orientation issues from TV sets with regularity. Ignorance about the ward almost has to be willful, even in very young people.

    Nor do I think "spastic" is acceptable.

    Yes, eight year olds don't know any better. Since it was likely that an eight year old would probably someday know someone who is spastic, someone probably surprised you with the proper information. (I would also guess that you were a good student!).
     

    andrew0991

    New Member
    USA- English + Cantonese + French + Spanish + Italian
    I wouldn't think it's used as another synonym for "bad". It's just used like the way it is today because it is seen as something negative, but it certainly does not mean "bad".
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    My impression of teenagers saying "that's so gay" is based on a pretty wide sample of real people. I have four grown children who are just past the teen years, they have an interest in language not unlike mine, they are generous with information about language use among their peers-- plus of course in many cases I know the specific, real people that're being talked about.

    I'm confident that the expression has nothing to do with homophobia, period. These kids are extremely gay-friendly and void of bigotry toward ethnic groups or people with disabilities, or whatever-- you name it, if it's PC they have pretty unanimously bought into it.

    What they used before "so gay" was the word lame. Now, it would be absurd for me to take offense at that-- but the fact is I am considerably lame, I use a cane and sometimes even a walker, and am medically "certified" as disabled though I don't go after any kind of monthly check on that account, just special license tags. Face it, I'm as lame as lame can be.

    It has never occurred to me to take umbrage with "what a lame website" or any of the hundreds of other such expressions. The switch to "gay" was made with the same blithe obliviousness about the way such an expression might be taken literally. It simply does not have anything to do with homophobic slurs, to these kids that use the expression. It would surprise me not at all if some of them were themselves homosexuals.

    Again, I'm not theorizing or endorsing or condemning any of this-- simply observing and reporting. I can kinda see why some people might look askance at this nealogism, but their apprehension and/or disapprobation simply does not pertain to the situation as I know it to be.

    I speak only for my own locale, but my degree of confidence is very high. These are kids that would speak up loudly and speak as one, if they heard any kind of bigoted attitude expressed.
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    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I will agree with you the day that 'that's really gay ' and 'that guy's such a spastic' are compliments etc .. until then I think that using such words as terms of abuse are not helping society move towards acceptance and tolerance..they are holding certain groups of society back...
    I'm not persuaded by anything I've read in this thread, or by overhearing the way kids speak, that these expressions are used with any intent of abuse. Abuse may occur, despite the lack of intent. That depends more on the listener than on the speaker at times. If the expressions can cause hurt feelings, we should educate our children about that.

    As to whether or not colloquial speech helps "...society move towards....."...that's the sort of PC stuff that hurts MY feelings, and makes me want to gag at times. The point of language is, first and foremost, clear communication. Some ideas are offensive and hurtful. Censorship and sugar coating are not the answer.

    I've heard people criticize a poet because he didn't use his poetry to promote fashionable social causes, and societal improvements. Ditto for works of abstract art. The attempts to demand that language be put to use as a means to accomplish social change are sadly reminiscent of Stalanist music criticism.

    I don't like the expression we have been talking about. It's apt to offend some of my friends. I've never used it, and would discourage those I know from using it for precisely that reason. But that is because it is imprecise and ambiguous, and will evoke different reactions than those intended by the speaker.

    I remain unaccepting and intolerant of mushy language that tries to promote social change by wrapping direct thoughts and statements in gauze and euphemisms. That is what a lot of PC-speak does.
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I'm not persuaded by anything I've read in this thread, or by overhearing the way kids speak, that these expressions are used with any intent of abuse. Abuse may occur, despite the lack of intent. That depends more on the listener than on the speaker at times. If the expressions can cause hurt feelings, we should educate our children about that.

    As to whether or not colloquial speech helps "...society move towards....."...that's the sort of PC stuff that hurts MY feelings, and makes me want to gag at times. The point of language is, first and foremost, clear communication. Some ideas are offensive and hurtful. Censorship and sugar coating are not the answer.

    I've heard people criticize a poet because he didn't use his poetry to promote fashionable social causes, and societal improvements. Ditto for works of abstract art. The attempts to demand that language be put to use as a means to accomplish social change are sadly reminiscent of Stalanist music criticism.

    I don't like the expression we have been talking about. It's apt to offend some of my friends. I've never used it, and would discourage those I know from using it for precisely that reason. But that is because it is imprecise and ambiguous, and will evoke different reactions than those intended by the speaker.

    I remain unaccepting and intolerant of mushy language that tries to promote social change by wrapping direct thoughts and statements in gauze and euphemisms. That is what a lot of PC-speak does.
    Hear, hear!! :thumbsup:
     

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    Banned
    Australian Australia
    I will agree with you the day that 'that's really gay ' and 'that guy's such a spastic' are compliments etc .. until then I think that using such words as terms of abuse are not helping society move towards acceptance and tolerance..they are holding certain groups of society back...
    There is a television clip that is shown repeatedly in Australia.
    We have a television personality named Bert Newton who has carved a lucrative career out of slightly snide putdowns. I do not find him to be amusing in the slightest but he is totally hillarious during a persentation he gave with Mohammed Ali as co presenter.
    Bert Newton was being fawning and trying to be funny when Mohammed Ali said something funny and interesting so Bert cracked a wide smile to the audience and said, "I like the boy!"
    This was a quip from a television commercial that Bert was running and he obviously thought it was funny for about half a second when Ali asked something like , "What did you say? Did you call me boy? Did he call me boy?"
    Ali could see the utterly terrified look on Bert's face as it suddenly dawned on Bert that he had just insulted one of the most physically dangerous men in the world so Ali mugged for the cameras.
    Ali raised his fist and put a mean look on his face for a couple of seconds as Bert tried to find a hole in the floor.
    It was the best moment I can remember seeing.
    Mohammed Ali was not insulted and was just playing for the cameras but he had Bert in the palm of his fist and he did seem to enjoy squeezing him just a little.
    I can insult morons and fools using words that the Pope could not complain about but sentence construction and word placement reveal my intent to let a nitwit know that I think they are too stupid to effectively pound sand.
    I agree with cuchuflete.
    I do not like the phrase in question and will never use it but I can not stop hearing it so I must examine the intent of the user.
    In the case of insults words are just words it is the intent behind the words that is important.

    .,,
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    My impression of teenagers saying "that's so gay" is based on a pretty wide sample of real people. I have four grown children who are just past the teen years, they have an interest in language not unlike mine, they are generous with information about language use among their peers-- plus of course in many cases I know the specific, real people that're being talked about.

    I'm confident that the expression has nothing to do with homophobia, period. These kids are extremely gay-friendly and void of bigotry toward ethnic groups or people with disabilities, or whatever-- you name it, if it's PC they have pretty unanimously bought into it.
    I agree with you that people using the phrase probably don't mean to insult anyone and are probably not making any link between calling a film gay and homosexuality - just like calling a film lame makes no link to hobbling.

    However, I think that it should be pointed out to them that it is offensive to use the name for a group of people as a synonym for "bad". As pointed out above gay children will have a lot of problems and the rates of suicide are high - they will probably be confused and depressed. Do they really need people going round blythely using their innate nature as a word for "bad"?
    What they used before "so gay" was the word lame. Now, it would be absurd for me to take offense at that-- but the fact is I am considerably lame, I use a cane and sometimes even a walker, and am medically "certified" as disabled though I don't go after any kind of monthly check on that account, just special license tags. Face it, I'm as lame as lame can be.

    It has never occurred to me to take umbrage with "what a lame website" or any of the hundreds of other such expressions. The switch to "gay" was made with the same blithe obliviousness about the way such an expression might be taken literally. It simply does not have anything to do with homophobic slurs, to these kids that use the expression. It would surprise me not at all if some of them were themselves homosexuals.
    I think this is where your "lame" comparison breaks down (it took a lot to put the quote marks in there!:D). You may be as lame as can be but I'm not surprised you were not offended by "lame" being used to mean "pathetic" and I would have thought you were over-reacting if you did. Why the difference? Because for being lame you haven't had to put up with a whole load of far-reaching prejudice. Your being probably isn't already bruised by being judged and found wanting on this small facet of who you are. I doubt any friends and family members have disowned you because of your lameness (opposed to what many gay people go through, I'm sure). Moreover the situation is fundamentally different - being lame is bad, isn't it? It might at most be insensitive to use it as a synonym for pathetic but you can see where the idea comes from, it makes sense to compare a bad film as "limping along". Using "gay" in such a way is just being nasty to a group of people (whether you've thought it through and are doing it on purpose or not) (like my "that's so American" example above).
    Again, I'm not theorizing or endorsing or condemning any of this-- simply observing and reporting. I can kinda see why some people might look askance at this nealogism, but their apprehension and/or disapprobation simply does not pertain to the situation as I know it to be.

    I speak only for my own locale, but my degree of confidence is very high. These are kids that would speak up loudly and speak as one, if they heard any kind of bigoted attitude expressed.
    .
    .
    But I don't see why you think someone has to be being deliberately offensive to censure a usage and ask them to use something else. Please understand that I'm not trying to support any PC changing of terms. Someone is crippled and so they are called a cripple. Some people use that term as an insult and so you can't say "cripple" any more. So another term is found and before long that term falls out of grace because it is used as an insult and so on ad infinitum. No point, just leave people saying what they want as they will find a way to insult people if they want to and changing the language will make no difference.

    This situation is different. This is using a standard term for a group of people to mean "bad" for no apparent reason. I've explained above why I think it could be very hurtful for a gay child growing up already very uncertain and vulnerable to hear the term constantly used in this way, and I think if it were pointed out to your friends and children that they might severely dent someone's self-esteem at a time they are particularly vulnerable by using such terms they would probably be horrified, but would nevertheless want to know. I am by a long way not a bleeding heart or PC or overly sympathetic generally, to be honest, but I firmly believe this could cause damage to some people.
     

    Paulfromitaly

    MODerator
    Italian
    I want to add my tiny humble contribution to this thread:
    for me (and for most of us who use the word gay also in our own language), non-native English speaker, the first and dominant meaning of the word gay is homosexual: I'd think of any other possible meanings (cheerful, bright, dissolute..) only if I was really sure that homosexuality was not involved in the context.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    I want to add my tiny humble contribution to this thread:
    for me (and for most of us who use the word gay also in our own language), non-native English speaker, the first and dominant meaning of the word gay is homosexual: I'd think of any other possible meanings (cheerful, bright, dissolute..) only if I was really sure that homosexuality was not involved in the context.
    Gay was taken into other languages after it had acquired the meaning homosexual. It's not unusual for words to modify their meaning when they are adopted by other languages.

    For example, tampon and douche are French words which have acquired much narrower meanings in English.
     

    Paulfromitaly

    MODerator
    Italian
    Gay was taken into other languages after it had acquired the meaning homosexual. It's not unusual for words to modify their meaning when they are adopted by other languages.

    For example, tampon and douche are French words which have acquired much narrower meanings in English.
    Yes, I'm aware of that..I just wanted to point out that gay is one of those tricky words which should be used carefully by natives when talking or writing to a foreigner, each time you want it convey a different meaning from the most common one.
     

    Hockey13

    Senior Member
    AmEnglish/German
    Yes, I'm aware of that..I just wanted to point out that gay is one of those tricky words which should be used carefully by natives when talking or writing to a foreigner, each time you want it convey a different meaning from the most common one.
    This is a good point. I could imagine a context where I'd say "This video game is so gay," if I'm really annoyed at the AI, and I'm around a foreigner where he might misconstrue the meaning.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I work with young ppl in the UK and they are currently (still) using "gay" as an all purpose derogatory word. I flinch everytime I hear it, because it obviously IS related to homophobia - even if it has shifted a little it is still not independent of its soruce.

    I challenge students if they do it on my class-room. Generally they avoid doing it in my earshot, and maybe they think twice about it elsewhere.

    On the other hand I dont think many of my students ARE homophobic, I've heard really nice kids who I knokw are gay-friendly use it -- so I can see the logic in both points of view here, on this age-old topic of how language reflects thought and vice-versa!
     

    Hockey13

    Senior Member
    AmEnglish/German
    I work with young ppl in the UK and they are currently (still) using "gay" as an all purpose derogatory word. I flinch everytime I hear it, because it obviously IS related to homophobia - even if it has shifted a little it is still not independent of its soruce.

    I challenge students if they do it on my class-room. Generally they avoid doing it in my earshot, and maybe they think twice about it elsewhere.

    On the other hand I dont think many of my students ARE homophobic, I've heard really nice kids who I knokw are gay-friendly use it -- so I can see the logic in both points of view here, on this age-old topic of how language reflects thought and vice-versa!
    Insensitivity does not imply hatred.
     

    Iona

    Senior Member
    English England
    cuchuflete said:
    As to whether or not colloquial speech helps "...society move towards....."...that's the sort of PC stuff that hurts MY feelings, and makes me want to gag at times. The point of language is, first and foremost, clear communication. Some ideas are offensive and hurtful. Censorship and sugar coating are not the answer.
    In what way does it hurt your feelings? this is about empathy .. . I did not say words should be 'sugar coated' ..which is a bit of an easy word to bandy about . If someone is gay OK they're gay ,if they're Jewish they're Jewish fine ,if they've got cerebral palsy they've got cerebral palsy BUT ....if you start using these words to signify negative things then subconsciously you are developing negative ideas about certain groups in society who already 'don't have it easy '.If a young child hears don't be so gay/such a spastic/ a Jew etc that child is NOT going to say to himself ..hey , being gay is good .. he's going to have a negative impression of all things gay ,Jewish and handicapped .
    We're not talking about 'sugar coating' ..we're talking about insensitivity - if you or your child were handicapped (N.B I could also say 'challenged' but would hate to make 'gag' .. your word ,not mine)..would you really want the word 'spastic' or 'mongul' to be used as a general insult terms ..I don't think so ... well ,neither do most people in these groups ..even if some claim otherwise.
     

    Hockey13

    Senior Member
    AmEnglish/German
    cuchuflete said:
    As to whether or not colloquial speech helps "...society move towards....."...that's the sort of PC stuff that hurts MY feelings, and makes me want to gag at times. The point of language is, first and foremost, clear communication. Some ideas are offensive and hurtful. Censorship and sugar coating are not the answer.
    In what way does it hurt your feelings? this is about empathy .. . I did not say words should be 'sugar coated' ..which is a bit of an easy word to bandy about . If someone is gay OK they're gay ,if they're Jewish they're Jewish fine ,if they've got cerebral palsy they've got cerebral palsy BUT ....if you start using these words to signify negative things then subconsciously you are developing negative ideas about certain groups in society who already 'don't have it easy '.If a young child hears don't be so gay/such a spastic/ a Jew etc that child is NOT going to say to himself ..hey , being gay is good .. he's going to have a negative impression of all things gay ,Jewish and handicapped .
    We're not talking about 'sugar coating' ..we're talking about insensitivity - if you or your child were handicapped (N.B I could also say 'challenged' but would hate to make 'gag' .. your word ,not mine)..would you really want the word 'spastic' or 'mongul' to be used as a general insult terms ..I don't think so ... well ,neither do most people in these groups ..even if some claim otherwise.
    I've never used that term once with my 11 year-old cousin. I heard the term well before I was 11 and I'm in no way homophobic. Any parent of a white kid who exposes their children to gay/black/Jewish/etc. people will be raising a kid who probably won't believe in stereotypes since he will have had personal experiences with members of those groups. Every Sunday I went to my family's closest friends who were two gay guys who owned two Golden Retrievers. They never took advantage me, acted completely like regular human beings, and I never considered gay people "those people" because to me they've always been part of "us."

    I think my attitude is completely removed from hatred as I continue to have old friends and find new friends who are gay (though I can't generally hang out with the particularly effeminate ones for the same reason I can't always hang out with girls). My life views did not sway when I heard the term, just like my lifelong friendships with Jewish people don't sway when I make a racial crack at them, they make a racial crack at me, people in general make racial cracks about Germans, etc. If I really think they're ignorant, I make a polite attempt to explain to them that not all Germans are genocidal. If they don't get it, I certainly can't change them by yelling at them or forcing them to believe what I want them to believe.

    I don't know...it seems a pretty rough thing to do to censor a word completely, and all that does is anger people more as it puts existing feelings under the surface. If someone really hates gays, the removal of the word from regular conversation will not change their hatred. Gay is, at this point, synonymous with other things in the English language, much like "French" is synonymous with other things in BE. If you want to make changes in the world, try spreading knowledge instead of censoring.
     

    geve

    Senior Member
    France, French
    ....if you start using these words to signify negative things then subconsciously you are developing negative ideas about certain groups in society who already 'don't have it easy '.If a young child hears don't be so gay/such a spastic/ a Jew etc that child is NOT going to say to himself ..hey , being gay is good .. he's going to have a negative impression of all things gay ,Jewish and handicapped .
    We're not talking about 'sugar coating' ..we're talking about insensitivity - if you or your child were handicapped (N.B I could also say 'challenged' but would hate to make 'gag' .. your word ,not mine)..would you really want the word 'spastic' or 'mongul' to be used as a general insult terms ..I don't think so ... well ,neither do most people in these groups ..even if some claim otherwise.
    We had the same situation on French playgrounds when I was a child: children would use "mongolien" (often shortened to "gogol") to say that one was dumb. "Mongolien" used to mean "someone who has Down's syndrom/Trisomy 21". It was so commonly used that I'm pretty sure I've uttered it myself several times back then. Until some good-thinking adults explained us what it really meant and adviced us against using this term in such contexts (especially when a section was opened in our school for mentally disabled children).

    Kids probably didn't mean to denigrate individuals with Downs syndrom - or maybe they did. Kids can be pretty harsh; tolerance and empathy are not innate, they need to be taught, and it starts with correcting unappropriate use of words. "Son, you have to know that this is not an insult, it's the name of a genetic condition that affects real human beings".
    It's not censorship, it's education.
     

    Iona

    Senior Member
    English England
    Who said anything about censoring ? I'm saying people should be 'aware' that what they're saying can be a) distressful and b) re-enforce ideas about a society ... It's great that you can make cracks about differences .. BUT , my point was and is .. would you ever use words that denote certain social groups to mean something bad .. not cracks between adults who understand the roles and limits ? 'that video game is so gay'..or 'don't be such a spastic' or ' he's such a Jew' .. our wires are crossed .. I have never implied censorship , I have never implied 'sugar coating' .. just that we must be careful ..
     

    Hockey13

    Senior Member
    AmEnglish/German
    Who said anything about censoring ? I'm saying people should be 'aware' that what they're saying can be a) distressful and b) re-enforce ideas about a society ... It's great that you can make cracks about differences .. BUT , my point was and is .. would you ever use words that denote certain social groups to mean something bad .. not cracks between adults who understand the roles and limits ? 'that video game is so gay'..or 'don't be such a spastic' or ' he's such a Jew' .. our wires are crossed .. I have never implied censorship , I have never implied 'sugar coating' .. just that we must be careful ..
    Ah..then I agree whole-heartedly :) . I often forget that others weren't as lucky as I was to have been exposed to many different cultures and lifestyles as a child. I hope this thread can get back on topic!
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    Here in BA a certain English Acadamy where I used to teach, still uses some textbooks written by the founder way back in the 40s in which appears the following rhyme:

    Learn an English proverb every day,
    And keep your teacher gay.

    This sometimes causes a laugh among the students, or if not, the phrase has to be carefully explained to allay any doubts!
     

    jimreilly

    Senior Member
    American English
    The shift of meaning of "gay" can be funny, as you have discovered. Here in Minneapolis there is a big bar called the Gay 90's. It was orginally a strip bar catering to straight men, with the theme of the 1890's; there was a gay bar adjoining it. Now the gay bar has expanded to fill the whole premises and even the upstairs, which used to be business lofts. No one even had to change the name -- the Gay 90's (old sense) has become the Gay 90's (new sense).

    So context and intention counts for a lot. While I do find "it's so gay" offensive, I also can recognize it's sometimes said more innocently ... and life is too short to always let offence get to you.
     

    Iona

    Senior Member
    English England
    "So context and intention counts for a lot. While I do find "it's so gay" offensive, I also can recognize it's sometimes said more innocently ... and life is too short to always let offence get to you."

    Of course - noone is denying that context and intention count , .. what I'm saying is that all too often alas 'gay' is very often used in negative contexts .. and .. life is too short to cause offence ... Your bar is a bit of an exception maybe? I am not gay ..but , imagine living in a world that was predominantly gay and a phrase like ' that's so hetero' was used to equal 'that's rubbish' .... sorry ... I would find that offensive and unhealthy for society.I think it's better to say.. that's rubbish , lousy etc
     

    jimreilly

    Senior Member
    American English
    I'm with you, Iona, and while I often do take personal offence at the phrase (*and I am gay), there are times when I don't. I also, just to stay sane, have to find a balance: not get too angry too often, but not stifle my real feelings. Sometimes it's tricky, sometimes it's impossible. I'm sure many other people in many other groups know this game all too well, and have suffered far more than I have trying to play it.

    Playing it gets easier when sypathetic people--like yourself--understand what's at stake. So...thank you!
     
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