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 Urbandictionary.com, 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.