03 January 2008

Thursday Thirteen:
Polari, the Lost Gay Slang

By Erastes

Do you know your ogles from your luppers? Could you tell a naff from a dish? If you were a gay man in England from the 1930s to the '70s, using the gay slang Polari (also known as Palari, Palare, Parlaree) was often the only way, in public, that you could communicate the things you thought about other men without being overheard - and running the risk of blackmail or arrest.

Many words have filtered into English from this language, like cottaging (seeking sex in a public toilet) and mince (to walk affectedly). Polari began to decline in use as gay men became more accepted. Most famously with two very camp (from KAMP = Known as a Male Prostitute) characters in a radio show Round the Horne called Julian and Sandy who slipped Polari words into their dialogue. With that, however, the secret was "out," excuse the pun, and the language began to wane in popularity - leaving only a few remnants of itself here and there in our everyday speech.

1. ajax - near, nearby (from adjacent)
2. bona -Good
3. basket - the bulge of male genitals through clothes
4. charper - search; charpering omi - policeman
5. ecaf - face (backslang) eek - face (abbreviation of ecaf)
6. fantabulosa - wonderful
7. gelt - money
8. jarry - food, also mangarie
9. khazi - toilet, also spelt carsey
10. naff - not desirable, bad, drab (not available for f***ing)
11. omi-polone - effeminate man, or homosexual
12 palare pipe - telephone
13 troll - to walk about (esp. looking for trade)

Further information:
Lexicon of Polari
Bringing It Back