Where dd the stereotypical gay accent/lisp originate?

Note:I am aware not all or most gay men adopt this accent and that it is cultural in origin.

Is there any info on where or with who this speech pattern originated?

The Master speaks: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1203/why-is-lisping-stereotypically-associated-with-homosexuality (but I don’t know if he lisps)

Nothing to add to the where, but the when goes way back, at least to the 40’s and I suspect still further. Movies and TV have used that device as long as I have been around. Somewhere along the way, that sibilant thing that Cecil mentions got coupled with a deeper voice and less lisping to account for the acceptance of more “butch” imagery brought on by the macho crowd and the biker clique. That would have taken place as early as the 50’s, I suspect.

Of all images, I would attribute Rock Hudson as the first to divorce popular image from sexual identity convincingly. Did he ever lisp?

Than Franthithco?

A related question: Was the general population more tone-deaf to “swishy” behavior in decades past? If “Mad Men” is any guide (and I would suggest it could be given the depth of their research), the straight characters seemed oblivious to the very obviously gay behavior from Sal, the firm’s art director in the first couple of seasons. He would often front himself as a hound dog and nobody seemed to doubt him. Perhaps some of the characters were suspicious of Sal’s orientation, but I don’t recall any subtext that would suggest so and it would be surprising that none of them came out and addressed it directly, given the complete lack of political correctness displayed by many of them.

Bruce was the guy that started it.

Well, Liberace was considered one of the most eligible bachelors going, with legions of adoring, swooning girls.

Nobody blinked when he was presented as a (totally heterosexual) sex symbol with two women pursuing him in Sincerely Yours, (1955)

So, yeah. :slight_smile:

I’d say that pretty much settles it.

In Hollywood, it goes back at least as far back as the 1931 film The Public Enemy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSIDwa_MG_E

1938’s Bringing up Baby does it too. Cary Grant specifically says “gay” while doing a swishy thing.


As Cecil noted, the stereotypical gay accent is not a true “lisp”, but rather a sort of hyper-sibilance. My guess is that this gets fudged as a lisp in jokes:

…because it approximates the higher-frequency sound, and is easier to imitate.

Interestingly, it may not be just a stereotype. There has been limited research which indicates the possibility that at least some gay men do in fact produce sibilants (s, z, sh, etc.) at a higher pitch than straight men. Here’s a brief and interesting article detailing one study.

One of my linguistics professors years ago pointed out to us that higher-frequency sibilance is also typical of women’s speech, and so, like many other stereotypically “gay” mannerisms, it’s literally “effeminate”.

In fact, when Liberace died of AIDS and his gay lover sued his estate, there was a discussion what the implications were for the magazine that paid a lawsuit massive settlement (early 60’s?) for suggesting he was gay. Could they could recoup their payment from his estate?

The word may have circulated about this sort of behaviour cliche, but IIRC from the time, it was simply NOT MENTIONED IN POLITE SOCIETY, which meant any media. In the world where double beds were a staple of married family sitcoms, and Lucille Ball could not use the word “pregnant” - even hinting someone was gay was less allowed than Janet Jackson’s exposure. We tend to forget this when the situtation is very commonly discussed and the butt (sorry) of many jokes. At the time, the social worker simply grabbing Alex’s package in “Clockwork Orange” was extremely shocking, even for an R-rated movie with statues of naked ladies spewing milk form their breasts. But then, Playboy spent decades suggesting that women looked like Barbie in the crotch and had no pubic hair.

The average Joe probably also had the same confused misinformation we asociate now with neanderthals out of touch with reality - that gays wanted to be women, that they wanted to dress in drag and would molest small boys given the chance, they were wimpy and weanie and had overdominant mommies, and all that other crap… SO the public really did not realize there were people among them acting very normal but with closet desires…

There was an episode of Archie Bunker where Archie was speaking disparagingly of a seemingly gay man, all the while ignoring his macho hunting buddy who finally set Archie straight at the end of the episode. I can’t remember details but I do remember at the time that there’s no way the character could possibly be gay because he was so overwhelmingly masculine. Shows how far this society has come.