• Gay


    • UK enPR: gā, IPA: /É¡eɪ/
    • Rhymes: -eɪ

    Origin 1

    From Middle English gay, from Old French gai ("joyful, laughing, merry"), probably a borrowing of Old Provencal gai ("impetuous, lively"), from Gothic 𐌲𐌰𐌷𐌴𐌹𐍃 (gaheis, "impetuous"), merging with earlier Old French jai ("merry"; see jay), from Frankish *gāhi;

    Alain Rey, ed., Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, vol. 2, s.v. “gai” (Paris: Le Robert, 2006).

    both from Proto-Germanic *ganhuz, *ganhwaz ("sudden"), from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰengʰ- ("to stride, step"), from *ǵʰēy- ("to go").

    Marlies Philippa et al., eds., Etymologisch Woordenboek van het Nederlands, A-Z, s.v. “gauw” (Amsterdam UP, 3 Dec. 2009):


    Louis Guinet, Les emprunts gallo-romans au germanique (Paris: Klincksieck, 1982).

    Cognate with Dutch gauw ("fast, quickly"), Westphalian Low German gau, gai ("fast, quick"), German jäh ("abrupt, sudden"). For more information, see the entries gang and go.

    Anatoly Liberman, following Frank Chance and Harri Meier, believes Old French gai was instead a native development from Latin vagus ("wandering, inconstant, flighty"), with *w >

    g as in French gainehttp://blog.oup.com/2012/02/word-origin-roots-gay/.

    The sense of homosexual (first recorded no later than 1947) was shortened from earlier gay cat ‘homosexual boy’ in underworld and prison slang, itself first attested about 1935, but used earlier for a young tramp or hobo attached to an older one.

    Robert K. Barnhart, ed., Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, s.v. “gay” (Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap, 2008, c1988), 425.

    The reason behind the recent pejorative usage is not documented, though it is primarily speculated to be due to hostility towards homosexuality.

    The sense of ‘upright’, used in reference to a dog’s tail, probably derives from the ‘happy’ sense of the word.

    Full definition of gay



    1. (dated)
      1. Happy, joyful, and lively.
        • 1405 Geoffrey Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Tale, The Canterbury Tales ()(Line 221) To bringe me gaye thinges fro the fayre.(Line 236) Why is my neighebores wyf so gay?(Line 298) That I was born, and make me fresh and gay,(Line 508) But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay(Line 545) For ever yet I lovede to be gay,
        • circa 1692 William Walsh (poet), preface to Letters and Poems, Amorous and Gallant, in , The Fourth Part of MiÅ¿cellany Poems, Jacob Tonson (publisher, 1716), page 338:Never was there a more copious Fancy or greater reach of Wit, than what appears in Dr. Donne; nothing can be more gallant or gentile than the poems of Mr. Waller; nothing more gay or Å¿prightly than thoÅ¿e of Sir John Suckling; and nothing fuller of Variety and Learning than Mr. Cowley’s.
        • 1905, w, w:The Case of Miss Elliott Chapter 2, Miss Phyllis Morgan, as the hapless heroine dressed in the shabbiest of clothes, appears in the midst of a gay and giddy throng; she apostrophises all and sundry there, including the villain, and has a magnificent scene which always brings down the house, and nightly adds to her histrionic laurels.
        • 1934, George Marion Jr. et al., (title):The Gay Divorcee.
        • 1974, Lawrence Durrell, Monsieur, Faber & Faber 1992, p. 252:The excitement engendered by the decision to die perked him right up; he had not felt so gay for ages.
        • Alexander PopeBelinda smiled, and all the world was gay.
        • GrayGay hope is theirs by fancy fed.
      2. Festive, bright, or colourful.
        • MiltonA bevy of fair women, richly gay
          In gems and wanton dress.
      3. Pennsylvania Dutch include the plain folk and the gay folk.
        • 1881, J. P. McCaskey (editor), “Deck the Hall”, Franklin Square Song Collection, number 1, Harper & Brothers (New York), page 120Don we now our gay apparel.
        • 1944, Ralph Blane, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, Meet Me in St. Louis, Metro-Goldwyn-MayerMake the Yule-tide gay
          From now on our troubles will be miles away
    2. (obsolete) Sexually promiscuous (of either gender).
      • 1856, Bayle St. John, The Subalpine kingdom: or, Experiences and studies in Savoy, Piedmont, and Genoa, Volume 2 p. 158Prince Borghese was what is called a "gay, dissipated man"—that is to say, a powerful person leading a debauched and infamous life.
      • 1879, House of Commons, Great Britain, Reports from committees, p. 61...it is possible for people to be diseased without being prostitutes or gay women; it is possible for people years ago to have spent a gay life and to have not got rid of their disease, or they may have become diseased by their husbands or lovers.
      • 1889, Albert Barrère, Charles Godfrey Leland, A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant: Embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian Slang, Pidgin English, Tinker's Jargon and Other Irregular Phraseology, Volume 1, p. 399Gay (common, loose, dissipated; a "gay woman" or "gay girl," a prostitute. "All gay," vide All gay.
      • 1898, John Mackinnon Robertson, G. Aston Singer, "The Social Evil Problem" in The University magazine and free review: a monthly magazine, Volume 9, p. 308She imprudently forms the acquaintance of a "gay girl" living in the same street.
      • 1899, Henry Fielding, Edmund Gosse, The works of Henry Fielding with an introduction, Volume 11, p. 290"As nothing could be more gay, i.e., debauched, than Zeno's court, so the ladies of gay disposition had great sway in it; particularly one, whose name was Fausta, who, though not extremely handsome, was by her wit and sprightliness very agreeable to the emperor.
    3. Homosexual:
      1. (of a person or animal, especially a male person) Possessing sexual and emotional attraction towards members of the same gender or sex.
        • 1947, Rorschach Research Exchange and Journal of Projective Techniqueshttp://books.google.com/books?id=vloZAAAAIAAJ, p. 240:He was not happy at the farm and went to a Western city where he associated with a homosexual crowd, being "gay," and wearing female clothes and makeup.
        • 2003, Michael McAvennie, The World Wrestling Entertainment Yearbook:She couldn't even gain access from a family friend whose name was on the list, nor could she use her feminine charms to turn on the staff member, who revealed he was gay and was more impressed seeing Billy and Chuck enter the building.
        • 2009, Betty Jean Lifton, Lost & Found: the Adoption Experience, page 67:Her adoptive mother fainted when Gail told her she was gay.
        • 2010, NoÄ—l Sturgeon, Environmentalism in Popular Culture: Gender, Race, Sexuality, and the Politics of the Natural, page 128:In fact, as several letter writers to the New York Times pointed out in their response to the article, the disjuncture between these two popularized penguins shows how radically separated from each other are communities of gay people and communities of right-wing religious conservatives: if the Christian fundamentalists had looked up “gay penguins” or even “penguins” on the Internet, they would have encountered several gay penguin sites, including the story of Roy and Silo, the Central Park Zoo gay penguin couple about whom a children's book was written; the saga of the gay penguin community at a German zoo; and the campaign of Gay Penguin for President (whose slogan was “George W. Bush talks the talk, but Gay Penguin walks the walk.”)
      2. (of a romantic or sexual act or relationship) Being between two people of the same gender or the same sex; especially, being between two men.Gay marriage, though legal here, is still very controversial.Although the number of gay weddings has increased significantly, many gay and lesbian couples — like many straight couples — are not interested in getting married.gay sex, 'gay acts''
      3. (of an institution or group) Intended for gay people, especially gay men.She professes an undying love for gay bars and gay movies, and even admits to having watched gay porn.
        • 2003, Lawrence Block, Small Town, page 269:He might well have suspected Cheek was a gay bar without seeing any of its patrons, simply because it was in a neighborhood where most of the bars were gay, and because you couldn't see in the windows.
        • 2004, Martin Hughes, Sarah Johnstone, Tom Masters, London, page 208:Turn left into chilled-out Old Compton St and try to guess which bars are gay. Even the straight bars in Soho are quite gay, so it's often a bit hard to tell.
        • 2010, Jay Mohr, No Wonder My Parents Drank: Tales from a Stand-Up Dad, page 252:Again I was to masturbate into a cup and again the majority of the porn was gay.
      4. In accordance with stereotypes of homosexual people:
        1. (loosely, of appearance or behavior) Being in accordance with stereotypes of gay people, especially gay men.
        2. (loosely, of a person, especially a man) Exhibiting appearance or behavior that accords with stereotypes of gay people, especially gay men.
          • a. 2005 Jason Christopher Hartley, “October 23, 2004: This Is My Weapon, This Is My Gerber”, in Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq, HarperCollins (2005), ISBN 0-06-084366-7, page 25:This incident has become a source of much discussion, and the jury is still out on who is more gay: the guy who touched a dick or the guy who let a guy touch his dick.
    4. A pejorative:
      1. (slang, pejorative, dated) Effeminate or flamboyant in behavior.
      2. (slang, pejorative) Used to express dislike: lame, uncool, stupid.This game is gay; let’s play a different one. = I dislike this game; let’s play a different one.
        • 1996, Lisa's Date With Density, The Simpsons (cartoon television series). Upon discovering Nelson kissing Lisa:Dolph: "Oh, man! You kissed a girl!"Jimbo: "That is so gay!"
        • 2000, Nancy Updike, That's So Gay, SalonYou or someone you know has declared something gay in the last week. Not gay as in homosexual, but gay in that grade-school "That is so gay!" way, i.e. lame, wrongheaded, queer in the original sense. This is happening all around you. That woman’s hairdo? Gay. That book jacket? Gay. The fact that Dick and Lynne Cheney won’t talk about their lesbian daughter? Gay gay gay.
    5. (of a dog's tail) Upright or curved over the back.
      • 1997, Michael DeVine, Border ColliesWhile the dog in concentrating at a given task, the tail is carried low and used for balance. In excitement it may rise level with the back. A “gay” tail is a fault.
      • 2000, David Leavitt, Martin Bauman; or, a Sure ThingBy now Nora had left my side and was grappling with Maisie, trying to hold her still long enough to examine her bit. “You haven’t trained her well,” she muttered to Eli. “Oh, she’s got a gay tail!” Eli laughed. “A gay tail? What does that mean?” “It curls upward.” Nona let Maisie go. “Still, you never intended her to be a show dog,” she added. brushing off her skirt as she made for the house.
    6. (colloquial) fun, fabulous, tasteful; fashionable. from 21th c.Her decor is quite gay just in time for the new season. = Her house is decorated fabulously and tastefully.
      • unknown date Robin Williams.‘We had gay burglars the other night. They broke in and rearranged the furniture.’
      • 2000's, Lewis Black.Maybe there's a group of gay bandidos. They travel from village to dell. And as night falls, they travel to that cul-de-sac, where only one house stands. And in the window, you see a family, just setting down to their evening meal. And these queers... these queers... don their black hoods, and matching pumps, very tasteful.

    Usage notes

    Gay has been predominantly used in recent decades in the sense of homosexual and the related senses. The earlier uses of festive, colorful and bright are still found, especially in literary contexts; however, this usage has fallen out of fashion and is now likely to be misunderstood by those who are unaware of the original meaning of the word which dates back to 13th-century Middle English.

    Gay is preferred to homosexual by many gay (homosexual) people as their own term for themselves. Some claim that homosexual is dated and evokes a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the mental health community, while others feel that the word homosexuality does not express the emotional aspects of sexual orientation.

    Currently, the usage implying homosexuality and the pejorative description of queerness are both predominant.


    Related terms



    (plural gays)
    1. (chiefly in plural or attributive) A homosexual, especially a male homosexual; see also lesbian.
    2. (obsolete) An ornament.

    Usage notes

    "Gay may be regarded as offensive when used as a noun to refer to particular individuals."



    Origin 2

    From Pitman kay, which it is derived from graphically, and the sound it represents. The traditional name gee was considered inappropriate, as the Pitman letter never has the sound of that name.



    (plural gays)
    1. The name of the letter ⟨—⟩, which stands for the sound IPA: /ɡ/, in Pitman shorthand.

    Related terms

    • gee (in Latin script)


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