Friday, 16 January 2015

Polari: The Lost Language Of Omi Polones

Some gay people – men in particular – did indeed used to speak their own language. Of sorts. It was less a language and more of a cant – a coded lexicon used exclusively to avoid detection by unwanted outsiders. That could’ve been the police, disapproving conservative society, or simply the group on the table next to you that you were bitching about.

So the short answer is – gay people don’t speak their own language any more. But, in 1960s Britain, gay men in large cities – particularly London – came close to doing so. It’s now archaic because the oppressive conditions which brought it about have, encouragingly, evaporated into equality in Britain. But there’s a move from language lovers like myself to preserve and promote Polari as a kind of linguistic artefact – so the toils, battles, and cheeky, resilient character of those who spoke it are remembered and respected. I particularly enjoy using the Polari app, which gives etymologies and explanations of the full Polari lexicon as far as records exist. Every time you shake your phone, a randomizer flashes up a new Polari word on your screen. Fantabulosa! ...

A guest blog for OxfordWords by Gary Nunn. 

A good piece on a subject that's usually strewn with myths and misunderstandings.

It was slang, not really a 'language', but it wasn't really mainly about a hidden people needing to speak in code, as Nunn suggests. Almost all subcultures develop their own argot...

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