Gay

Detail of OED - gay

See OED entry for Gay

The word gay has an extraordinary history.The definitions shown in this OED entry refer to an amazing array of subjects: joy, poetry, prancing horses, dogs tails, prostitution and bright colours to name a few. For most of us today, the word relates to homosexuality.

The 2003 addition records the new slang sense which is now commonly used by many UK teenagers in informal colloquial contexts, where gay is used as a synonym for socially inappropriate or disapproved of. There is anecdotal evidence that gay in this new slang sense has been diffusing through UK schools for ten years, but the first citation here, from the US, is from 1978. Again the Oxford English Dictionary shows new words and meanings being initiated well before they move into wider use.

Will gay, in the new slang sense, cease to be slang and become an established word in the language? What would need to happen for that shift to be encoded in official records such as dictionaries? To what extent does gay in this new sense fix homophobic attitudes, and if it does, to what extent has this sense been bleached as the word has diffused?


Technical Note: All OED entries open in a new window. All links and functionality on OED pages are disabled.