Some of us old-timers will recall the time when the word ‘gay’ started to become identified with homosexuality and calls for equality for people of all sexual orientations, and the phrases ‘gay rights’ and ‘gay liberation’ came into vogue. Since at the same time homosexuality was still strongly stigmatized, some would complain that the word gay was being been appropriated by the ‘gay lobby’ and that they could no longer use the word with its original meaning of being happy because people might misunderstand.
This was always a silly argument. Words have multiple meanings, sometimes even almost contradictory ones (such as ‘sanction’ that can mean both approve and punish) and we can almost always easily infer what meaning it has from the context. This is rarely a problem. So if you say ‘I am feeling gay today’, it should be pretty easy to tell what you mean. The only problem is if you feel a sense of horror at the remote chance that someone might mistake it for a statement of your sexual orientation as opposed to your mood.
Now that we have progressed so far towards the acceptance of homosexuality, one might think that the multiple meanings of the word gay are no longer a problem and people can use it freely knowing that the context makes the meaning clear and even if it doesn’t, any misunderstanding doesn’t really matter.
But apparently not. Hallmark is marketing a sweater for Christmas that has the words “Don we now our fun apparel”, substituting ‘fun’ for the word ‘gay’ in the traditional Christmas carol. This caused some sarcastic eye-rolling with comments to Hallmark that the risk of being thought to be gay was not worth changing the lyrics over, while others took it on themselves to once again denounce gays for expropriating the word and forcing Hallmark to change a popular carol.
Hallmark even issued a statement explaining the reasons for the wording.
When the lyrics to “Deck the Halls” were translated from Gaelic and published in English back in the 1800s, the word “gay” meant festive or merry. Today it has multiple meanings, which we thought could leave our intent open to misinterpretation.
The trend of wearing festively decorated Christmas sweaters to parties is all about fun, and this ornament is intended to play into that, so the planning team decided to say what we meant: “fun.” That’s the spirit we intended and the spirit in which we hope ornament buyers will take it.
It has now become a holiday tradition that Christmas must have some dispute over silly things like this.