Gay as a word for stupid

An article in today’s Guardian tells how the BBC refused to censure a DJ for using gay in the sense it seems to have acquired of late among the young, that is, “stupid, rubbish, crap, useless.”

*What is interesting and depressing about all this is to see how widely and quickly the irritating linguistic change around the word gay has taken hold. On, always a useful barometer in such matters, definitions have been posted in 105 separate entries. Nearly all of these seek - with varying degrees of articulacy and inventiveness - to explain the new dual homosexual/rubbish meaning of “gay”. The consensus could be described as “a slang term for something bad” or “stupid, rubbish, crap, useless, pointless, somewhat annoying”, or - more acerbically - “anything negative a teenager couldn’t find a better word for fast enough”. The significant point is that while many posters note that this usage has an obvious potential to offend, many disregard or overlook the issue completely.

Tony Thorne, head of the languages centre at King’s College, London, believes that the gay/rubbish linguistic connection is one that only the under-28 age group can make comfortably. “It is true now that it is very widespread among young speakers and it is not used with any homophobic intention at all - and that is difficult for people to get their heads around,” he said yesterday. “Even if a person does not mean to be homophobic I do not think there are many gay people who would be able to laugh it off. A lot of people have not caught up with it yet. Many people over 30 are surprised to hear young people use the term in this way.”*

An American poster on another forum I frequent mentions that the usage is current among American kids too.

Gay Rights groups in the UK are unhappy, to say the least, with this usage, although, as mentioned above, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious homophobic intent on the part of most kids who use it.

So is this just another harmless language fad, or something more sinister? It’s ironic that gays, who made the word their own in the last century, may now find it being turned against them.

I feel it is especially sinister because as opposed to the terms of abuse such as ‘poof’ (or presumably ‘faggot’ in Usa) which specifically attempt to undermine abusee by questioning their sexuality, and thus their oh-so-desirable homogeneity with the pack, the ‘gay/rubbish’ correlation is more insidious - if gay is just another word for ‘crap’ used in everyday speak, it creeps up on users unaware until at some level gay identities/behaviours are considered by the nature of their descriptors, crap.

My younger, and otherwise enlightened brothers use ‘gay’ in this crappy way, and I always reprimand them for it - not because I believe they’re truly homophobic, but because it suggests moronic hankering after acceptance into the ‘brotherhood of lads’ (would that be ‘good ol’ boys in Usa?..).

I remember reading a passage by Anthony Burgess where he’s very cross that homosexuals had thus upsurped a perfectly normal English word that really means “joy”. Anyway, homosexuals didn’t make it their own. They don’t own the language and have no special right to be protected from language change or fads.

But come to think of it, then it’s surprising something like this hasn’t happened before. Since so many people has something against homosexuals, one should imagine “gay” would have been turned into a general slur sooner. But of course there are so many other words you can use instead.

Since “gay” had a perfectly acceptable vernacular meaning before the same-sex-oriented coopted it for their own use (and frankly, some gays I have known have been anything but, and I don’t think it was all my fault) I guess they can’t complain when the wheel turns.

Still, if the “gay = rubbish” interpretation has homophobia at its core, I think I have to cry out against a word used as a morally-neutral descriptor of a certain sector of the population being used as a pejorative term. I mean, that’s just retarded.

I plead guilty to this particular crime. When I refer to my pink glittery Hula Hoop as my pink glittery gay Hula Hoop, or when I refer to Jack Bauer wooing Audrey as “so gay”, I’m using “gay” as a pejorative, because it’s damn fucking funny.

BTW, I think homosexual people are awesome.

My gay friends use the perjorative “gay” way more than I do.

It was used that way in the eighties when I was in college. I thought it had died out in that use and was surprised when I started a job in 2000 and one of the guys there used it regularly.

Maybe homosexual groups should pull a “Spastic Society/Scope” and totally rebrand because of the use of ‘their’ term as a perjorative.
I’ve noticed when used online (in MMORPGs and blogs) it’s often spelt ‘ghey’, is that as offensive to homosexuals as using ‘gay’?

That’s because many servers block the word “gay” so they changed the spelling to get around the block. Same difference.

Could someone show me how homosexuals “co-opted” the word gay rather than just adapted to being called gay by society?

Actually I can’t. It’s just a “well-known fact” :dubious: that they started out by using the word to describe each other, and then insisted on everyone else using it. If that’s a POS then I’d welcome correction 'cos few things in life please me better than knowing that a popular assumption is actually wrong (which tells you plenty about what joyous company I am).

If a kid on an MMORPG is doing it, you can rest assured that however they spell it, they would defend their own homophobia without hesitation. They wouldn’t claim that it was only tangentally related; they would proudly, most of them, proclaim their hatred for homos.

That said, I don’t know, I kind of feel like if it promotes discussions like these, in the end it’s not such a bad thing. And it can be funny, and has spread well out of the core of insecure 14 year old boys who have to let everyone know how totally not gay they are all the time. That’s also a good thing, a re-re-reclaimation; obviously, if it had any power to sting in the beginning, it doesn’t now, because it’s been thinned out and ironicalized beyond all real significance.

I have to say that, irrespective of whether the word is homophobic or not, my usage of it will not be tempered by the indignation of “gay rights groups”, who, like trade unions, exist for the sole purpose of finding things to be indignant about. If they accepted the status quo they would, after all, be obsolete.

When this story broke, and, indeed, when I read the OP, I considered it to be a stupid non-issue. Now that I think about it, however, I guess there is a real point. I use the word all the time in that sense - around gay and straight friends - and no one has yet shown any sign of taking offence. That said, I have never heard a gay person use it, nor would I probably use it front of a gay stranger, so I obviously have some deep-seated awareness that it is at least slightly homophobic. The homophobic aspect is what makes it such a great word to use however, because the homophobia, when directed at inanimate objects, for example, is so hopelessly inappropriate. And it’s tongue-in-cheek homophobia, anyway, in much the same way as “I just had lunch with some Yanks” is racism.

It was used that way in the 80’s when I was 8 years old and didn’t even know what “gay” was.

We just used to call stuff gay. We called each other “gay barney” and used the expression “you are such a gay barn”.

Sometimes I still use it for something stupid and when used like that, it’s disassociated from anything that has to do with homosexuality when used in that way.

I use it that way. I don’t care. I have no problem with actual gay people. In fact, if I did, I’d probably be more cautious in my use of it.

I actually started a thread on the Dope some time ago to get a sense of the appropriateness of “ghey”. I sometimes IM my nephews (less and less these days, as the novelty of adult participation has worn off), and they used to bandy ghey around pretty frequently in expanded chats with their friends as participants. What really got my :dubious: on was their use of this alternate spelling in relation to a neighbor kid who they clearly felt was more than a little fey. And yet, they swore up and down “ghey” is NOT “gay”. It’s “stupid” or “lame”. I gave up trying to figure it out, but my suspicion is it’s all of them.


I’m fairly certain that the homosexual community picked gay as thier choosen word back in the sixites. No cite, and I have no interest in googleing for that factoid at work! :eek:

I recall using gay for stupid back in the seventies in things like “Don’t be gay!” (Don’t be stupid) or “That’s so gay!” (That’s not right). I really remember lot’s of people starting to use it in everday conversation as meaning stupid after the show “South Park” hit it big.

I’d be a lot more offended by this usage if I didn’t employ it myself so often. I know I shouldn’t, because it’s undeniably homophobic. But dude, some shit is just gay.

Anyway, there are much bigger gay rights issues out there to worry about. Hectoring 14 year olds over their vocabulary isn’t going to get the Senate to shut up about this idiotic marriage ban, for example. Worrying about this is ultimately a waste of time and energy.

In that the term gay appears to have meant homosexual within the homosexual community prior to its use in the general public, I suppose it is only a slight stretch to say they “co-opted” the word. On the other hand, it is certainly not true that a horde of homosexual thugs was dispersed throughout the country to enforce that meaning. It was actually picked up by the general public before the movement to stop harrassing people based on sexual orientation became public, so it hardly appears to be a deliberate effort by the gay community to impose their language on others.

Partridge’s Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English says that it was “common” in the U.S. in 1945 and in the U.K. in 1955.

The Random House Word Maven on “gay” pretty much supports those dates with some additional commentary.

Same here. I had a vague notion of homosexuality, but really sexuality in general was barely on my radar screen. As far as I could tell, using “gay” for “stupid” was funny not because of the homosexual connotation, but because gay was a word for happy. A stupid and outdated word for happy. Like something your grandma would say that would make you roll your eyes.

Whenever I hear “that’s totally gay!” I still think of it like that, so maybe I missed the point all those years back. But I never feel bad for laughing. It’s just one of those words that sounds goofy to me.

Sexual words are used as rude words way beyond their original meaning all the time. Gay no differnet from Fuck, Dick, Prick, Bollocks etc.

It seems it would be worth using het or hetro as a rude word for something that is dull and boring, as vanilla is sometimes used by those who disparage vanilla sexuality.