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Nov 02 2013

The use of the word gay

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.

ugly-sweaterNow 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.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    trucreep

    I remember when Christmas was just an excruciating 30 days or so of being barely able to wait for the 25th, being unable to sleep on the 24th, and my family all smiles and good moods the morning of. Being a kid wasn’t so bad….

    I’m curious if the whole “War on Christmas” has been going on forever and ever, and I only started noticing it once I got old enough to start reading the “news.”

  2. 2
  3. 3
    trucreep

    Errrr more on the topic though. I remember when calling something “gay” or saying to a friend (jokingly) “you’re such a faggot” was part of the typical high school kid’s vocabulary. I will say those PSAs about saying something is “gay” with like Hillary Duff and Wanda Sykes were reeeeeeeally lame, but they did finally get me to realize that it was not something that I wanted to participate in.

    I few years back I would justify using the word “faggot” as describing a certain way of acting, not having anything to do with gays or lesbians. It seems like we’re becoming more aware of the hurtful nature of saying this overall, and I’m glad most people are able to see that. I still hear people call each other “gay” from time to time, but it seems like this is declining overall.

    Now in the online community, online games and the like, seems like they have some work to do yet.

  4. 4
    Henry Gale

    A British man was banned from Facebook when he posted that he liked ‘faggots.’ Turns out that is a British dish similar to what we Americans call meatballs. It took some time but his privileges were reinstated.

    Link to Daily Mail article.

    And to be sure many people pause before using the word ‘niggardly.’ Which has no etymological connection to the racial slur.

  5. 5
    Mano Singham

    Thanks! It was one I hadn’t seen before.

  6. 6
    J. J. Ramsey

    So if you say ‘I am feeling gay today’, it should be pretty easy to tell what you mean.

    Actually, it would probably be pretty confusing. Yes, it’s true that words can have multiple meanings, but it’s also true that the meanings of words can change, and that an earlier meaning of the word can become dated. During the 60s, the use of “gay” to mean “happy” or “merry” started to be phased out. As an example, the theme to the original Flintstones show from the 1960s had the lyric, “We’ll have a gay old time,” but in “The New Fred and Barney Show” from 1979, it had become, “We’ll have a great old time.”

  7. 7
    Pierce R. Butler

    Admit it, Hallmark – you only changed this because the all-powerful workers in your deathtrap Bangladesh workshops demanded it!

  8. 8
    Randy Lee

    Kudos to Hallmark! Where words have been co-opted by movements which then take on meanings that are considered unacceptable to other groups, freedom of speech and the consonant right to convey a precise understanding of such words to those with whom such groups choose to communicate, it shouldn’t trouble those who changed the meanings of such words to exercise both tolerance and understanding toward those who choose to convey precise meaning to those with whom they communicate and associate.

  9. 9
    Randy Lee

    I left a few words out; i meant to say. Kudos to Hallmark! Where words have been co-opted by movements which then take on meanings that are considered unacceptable to other groups, freedom of speech and the consonant right to convey a precise understanding of such words to those with whom such groups choose to communicate should take precedent, and therefore it shouldn’t trouble those who changed the meanings of such words to exercise both tolerance and understanding toward those who choose to convey precise meaning to those with whom they communicate and associate.

  10. 10
    Reptile Dysfunction

    @Randy Lee–you left out some words again.

  11. 11
    Leo Buzalsky

    Others have essentially addressed this, but to youngsters such as myself, “gay” has never meant “happy.” About the only place I’ve seen it used that way was from The Flintstone’s theme song, but that could easily be brushed aside as an anomaly due to the age of the show.

    Also, the word did essentially mean “lame” back in my high school days about 12 years ago. I have no idea if that’s changed.

  12. 12
    left0ver1under

    Scandinavia And The World did a recent take on the word gay:

    http://satwcomic.com/let-s-have-a-gay-time

    The Denmark character is male, if you don’t follow the comic.

    As for Hallmark (Failmark is more like it), one would think that including ye olde Englishe word “don” would also mean words like gay might have other meanings. Even money says they put “Old Long Ago” on their next New Year’s cards because some employees or customers can’t figure out what Auld Lang Syne means.

    Fer crying out loud. Those whining loudest about the “war on christmas” are the very people changing the words (re: FOX Nuisance and “happy holidays”).

    https://www.vdare.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/fullsize/images/James_Fulford/20121213-foxhappyholidays.jpg

  13. 13
    Randy Lee

    TY for pointing that out. I will try to do better next time.

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