Etymology: Sex term -- "cottaging"

Reading an article on about how there are some really old laws that are being updated, my 74-yr-old came across the term “cottaging.”

Couldn’t find it in the dictionary, but after a smutty on-line search we found it means “cruising for sex in public washrooms.”

Okay, fine. But can anyone tell me the etymology of the term? It seems like older slang and we’re curious.

Your 74-yr old???

Er… how old are U? :eek:

Back to the OP: never heard of it.:wink:

The OED (2nd edition; 1989) gives as one definition for “cottage,”

(Which probably stems from its already existing meaning of “a small and humble dwelling-place.”) In any event, the year of the earliest usage for this sense of “cottage” is given as 1906.

As you’ve suggested, to “cottage,” then, means,

The OED cites the following as the earliest use of the verb form,

Think George Michael.

Now I’m really afraid to ask whence comes the term cottage cheese!

Ohhhh, that makes sense… If you think of “cottage” as a simlar or equivalent term as “outhouse”.

Okay, now I can put it together. “Cottage” = “little building that houses the toidy.” Cottaging would them be self-explanatory.

Curiosity satisfied.

Next question: Is it a UK thing? We’re pretty up-to-date on our queer slang (it came with our membership package) and I’ve never heard the term in North America or Australia.

We’d guessed it was from the UK of late 1800s or early 1900s (we were thinking of it being from the Oscar Wilde era.) I suppose we weren’t that far off in our guess.

NinetyWt Our “74-yr-old” is a pseudo family member. Not biologically related to us but kind of adopted into our family unit. Although, my granny is still alive and old enough to be his mom.

Mr Blue Cheese we understood what the cruising definition means – it was the etymology of the slang term “cottaging” that we were curious about.

The word seems to be part of a slang dialect called Polari.

There seems to be some academic recognition of the term.

During the 1950’s and '60’s in the UK there was a more communal development of gay culture, though the word ‘gay’ was not used in those days.

Prior to this gay people were a lot more isolated and stayed in very closed groups, gay people found it very difficult to meet other strangers who were gay.

Why it all changed is a matter to books on social development, but it did.

Suffice to say that although there was a desire for gay people to seek each other out, it was still very difficult due to the repressive nature of UK society toward them.

Gay people would take precautions against being outed by using terms that would be familiar to the like minded, and if a mistaken attempt at contact was made there was a danger of being reported to the police.

Somehow a system was developed, which is I’d guess too organised a way to imagine how things operated, and this included a ‘gay’ vocabulary and a recognised way of making contacts.

During this time it became common practice for gay men to make contact with each other in Gentlemens Lavatories, this is what became called ‘cottaging’.

It was all very cloak and dagger, the risks of being caught involved public trial and humiliation, there could be serious social and employment consequencies, and many gay men were under cover, being married but leading double lives, which would then fall apart under the stress.

This would lead to police hiding in adjacent cubicles listening in to private conversations, or observing through spyholes, or acting as possible contacts, all in the attempt to repress gay people.
It was all very sordid, and you could argue that the police themselves were the most significant part of that.

I would expect that this is a very British thing, we were very prudish and sexually repressed as a whole, if you were above 30 in the UK at the time, and not married then it could draw suspicion upon you about your sexuality, unless you were considered a ‘confirmed batchelor’ of the love 'em and leave 'em type.

Etymology? OK, you asked for it! You never know what astonishing buried connections you’ll dig up when you go hunting for roots. Check this out…

Cottage is basically the word cot, extended with a suffix. (Not the word cot meaning ‘bedstead’; that’s unrelated and comes from Dravidian, as in Tamil kaTTil.) I mean the old word cot ‘a small house; a small shelter’. Related to cote, as in “dovecote”, housing for doves.

That comes from an interesting Proto-Germanic root *ku — “Hypothetical base of a variety of conceivably related Germanic words meaning ‘a hollow space or place, an enclosing object…’.” (American Heritage Dictionary, 1st ed. [1969], p. 1524.)

From *ku- we get cove, cubby, kobold, cobalt, goblin (entity dwelling underground), coop. And also…

There you have it. I love etymology. :slight_smile: Oddly, another word derived from *ku- is cock, but not the kind of “cock” your salacious mind is thinking of: this is the haycock, another word for haystack. You know, the good old roll in the hay.

Some of the first linguistic research done on Polari was by Ian Hancock of the University of Texas. An article by him on this subject is “Shelta and Polari,” which can be found in the volume Language in the British Isles edited by Peter Trudgill. I remember Hancock talking about Polari and its relationship to (Mediterranean) Lingua Franca in his course in sociolinguistics I took back in grad school.

Wow! Now that is cool! Thanks for the link. A fascinating tid-bit of history.

But one of the most notorious, if somewhat argued about, cases is the arrest of John Nash, of A Beautiful Mind fame, in a Santa Monica urinal in 1954 after he’d exposed himself to an undercover cop. His biographer, Sylvia Nasar, doesn’t believe that this indicates Nash was bisexual; other’s have disagreed.
Of course, it was probably as routine for American cops in the period to be hanging out in gents toilets in entrapment operations as it was for British coppers. The practice is even satirised in A Confederacy of Dunces. What the slang was for the offences they were trying to stop is another matter.

If you’re interested in Polari, or gay slang for that matter. I’ve just published two books that might be worth looking at.

Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men, focusses on the history, origins and decline of Polari - a UK-based form of language.

Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang, covers 20th century gay slang in much more detail, as well as U.S. gay slang.

Cottaging got its name, because in the UK - public toilets in parks tended to resemble small detached cottages with sloping roofs. At least, this is the explanation that I have been given that seems to make the most sense.

Paul Baker

::sudden realisation:: :smack:

When I was 17, I was queueing outside the superloo in Soho Square, and this guy behind me in the queue said “I think this khazi’s broken. There’s a bar over there, we could use the toilets there.” I capitulated, and after I’d used the toilet in the bar realised he’d bought me a drink, and was trying to pick me up. So I ran away. I never knew that “khazi” was Polari. Could he have been dropping that into the conversation as a signal that he thought I’d picked up on?

“Khazi” for “toilet” is pretty widespread slang outside the gay community - so much so that I doubt it would be meant deliberately as a clue. (Though the term certainly seems to have come from Polari originally. And a quick Google search turned up an alternative definition that merits an :eek: ).