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The History of Homosexuality: Polari

Wikimedia Commons

Polari is a form of cant slang adopted by the queer subculture in England throughout the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries. Its origins are murky, although there’s evidence at least some of it dates back as early as the 1500s, where it was used by a number of socially marginalised groups, including actors, circus showmen, merchant seamen, prostitutes, and petty criminals, as well as queer men. Punch and Judy street performers also have a strong association with it.

The purpose of any slang vernacular is to include and exclude, and usually serves to mark the speakers out from the dominant culture. People use slang all the time — it exist in different occupations (I could write a whole essay on the shorthands, abbreviations, and slang of the construction industry, for a start), different age groups (teenagers are most notable for it), and across different socio-economic strata. Geographically, we use different words depending on where we’re from (dialect), and individually, too (idiolect). Close-knit groups of friends will often develop their own words (or ascribe new meaning to old ones) based on common experience, and using language in this way encourages social cohesion, both by linking all the users with a common tongue, and by excluding those who are “other.” Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging

The History of Homosexuality: Camp

John Inman in Are You Being Served?. Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia describes camp as “a social, cultural, and aesthetic style and sensibility based on deliberate and self-acknowledged theatricality.” It is all those things, and more besides, but it’s difficult to pin down. Nonetheless, we all know camp when we see it.

Camp is effete, it’s garish, it’s hyperbole and exaggeration, it’s shameless, crude, funny, and sexless. Camp appeals to the masses, yet is intrinsically associated with queer men.

Camp derives from the French se camper (“to pose in an exaggerated fashion”), and was first defined in 1909 in the Oxford English Dictionary as: “ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual; pertaining to, characteristic of, homosexuals. So as a noun, ‘camp’ behaviour, mannerisms, et cetera.” Continue reading →

Posted by Kate Aaron in History, Queer Blogging