Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More on the meanings of words

Writing earlier about word meanings brought to mind something I read a while back, about "gay" coming to mean "homosexual."

Seems that this isn't a recent development, and that as far back as the 1850s -- at least in London and New York -- "gay" had already taken on a connotation, one which fully developed in the 1960s.

(I also suspect that this was a town mouse/country mouse thing for a while, so that those in New York might have heard this connotation decades before those in, say, Raleigh might have).

I remember very plainly the last time I heard "gay" used publicly in the old sense. I was at chapel at Moody Bible Institute in 1975. (We were still required to attend chapel 5 days a week then). A speaker -- one who was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and whose name I'll withhold to protect the guilty -- said something to the effect that summer was on the way, and it was time "to take out our gay clothing."

Snickers went through the audience. Some laughed out loud. I remember the look on the guy's face: he obviously didn't have a clue why people were laughing.

Words are tough. Meanings change, and sometimes quickly.

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