As a community we have known plenty of hard times and suffered incredible levels of oppression. But being resilient creatures, we’ve always found ways around the complexities of life and forged ahead towards a brighter future.
And one method in particular by which the gay community negotiated the homophobia of past times has always fascinated me - the language of Polari.
With there no longer being so desperate a need to keep one’s sexuality secret, particularly in the western world, Polari is at real risk of being lost to future generations. A form of theatrical rhyming slang, the language was used by numerous groups in the 1900s, including the LGBTQ+ community and particularly gay men. Homosexuality at that time was illegal, and communicating in a way which allowed individuals to avoid being outed was essential.
The need for the language began to decline with the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.
Many of the words used in Polari became part of our mainstream language, with some still being used to this day.
Do you recognise any of the Polari words below? Maybe we can bring the language back!
Lots of love, Lacey X
Polari - Bona or Naff? How many Polari words below do you recognise?
Chicken: young boy
Cottage: public loo (particularly with reference to cottaging)
Cottaging: having or looking for sex in a toilet
Dish: an attractive male
Dolly: pretty, nice, pleasant
Drag: clothes (particularly women's clothes)
Ecaf: face (backslang)
Lilly: police (Lilly Law)
Mince: walk (affectedly)
Naff: bad, drab (from Not Available For Fucking)
National handbag: dole
Nishta: nothing, no
Scarper: to run off
Troll: to walk about (especially looking for trade)
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