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Faggot (slang)

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For other uses, see Faggot and Fag.
A Volkswagen Beetle ("Bug") owner in response to fag graffiti spray-painted on her car christened it "The Fagbug" and embarked on a trans-American road trip to raise awareness of homophobia and LGBT rights that was documented in a film of the same name.[1][2]

Faggot, often shortened to fag, is a pejorative term used chiefly in North America primarily to refer to a gay man.[3][4][5] Alongside its use to refer to gay men in particular, it may also be used as a pejorative term for a "repellent male" or a homosexual person of either gender.[5][6][7] Its use has spread from the United States to varying extents elsewhere in the English-speaking world through mass culture, including film, music, and the Internet.


The American slang term is first recorded in 1914, the shortened form fag shortly after, in 1921.[8] Its immediate origin is unclear, but it is based on the word for "bundle of sticks", ultimately derived, via Old French, Italian and Vulgar Latin, from Latin fascis.[8][9]

The word faggot has been used in English since the late 16th century as an abusive term for women, particularly old women,[9] and reference to homosexuality may derive from this,[8][10] as female terms are often used with reference to homosexual or effeminate men (cf. nancy, sissy, queen). The application of the term to old women is possibly a shortening of the term "faggot-gatherer", applied in the 19th century to people, especially older widows, who made a meagre living by gathering and selling firewood.[10] It may also derive from the sense of "something awkward to be carried" (compare the use of the word baggage as a pejorative term for old people in general).[8]

An alternative possibility is that the word is connected with the practice of fagging in British private schools, in which younger boys performed (potentially sexual) duties for older boys, although the word faggot was never used in this context, only fag. There is a reference to the word faggot being used in 17th century Britain to refer to a "man hired into military service simply to fill out the ranks at muster", but there is no known connection with the word's modern pejorative usage.[8]

The Yiddish word faygele, lit. "little bird", has been claimed by some to be related to the American usage. The similarity between the two words makes it possible that it might at least have had a reinforcing effect.[8][10]

There used to be an urban legend, called an "oft-reprinted assertion" by Douglas Harper, that the modern slang meaning developed from the standard meaning of faggot as "bundle of sticks for burning" with regard to burning at the stake. This is unsubstantiated; the emergence of the slang term in 20th-century American English is unrelated to historical death penalties for homosexuality.[8]

Use in the United Kingdom

Originally confined to the United States,[8] the use of the words fag and faggot as epithets for gay men has spread elsewhere in the English-speaking world, but the extent to which they are used in this sense has varied outside the context of imported U.S. popular culture. In the UK and some other countries, the words queer, homo, and poof are much more common as pejorative terms for gay men. The word faggot typically refers to a kind of meatball, while fag is most commonly used as a slang term for "cigarette".

The terms fag/fagging, have been widely used for a practice of younger pupils acting as personal servants to the most senior boys for well over a hundred years in England, in the public school system of education.

Use of fag and faggot as the term for an effeminate man has become understood as an Americanism in British English, primarily due to entertainment media use in films and television series imported from the United States. When Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews was overheard supposedly using the word in a bad-tempered informal exchange with a straight colleague in the House of Commons lobby in November 2005, it was considered to be homophobic abuse.[11][12]

Early printed use

The word faggot with regard to homosexuality was used as early as 1914, in Jackson and Hellyer's A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang, with Some Examples of Common Usages which listed the following example under the word, drag:[13]

"All the fagots (sissies) will be dressed in drag at the ball tonight."

The word was also used by a character in Claude McKay’s 1928 novel Home to Harlem, indicating that it was used during the Harlem Renaissance. Specifically, one character says that he cannot understand:

"a bulldyking woman and a faggoty man"

Pascoe's research on masculinity and high school

Through ethnographic research in a high school setting, CJ Pascoe examines how American high school boys use the term fag. Pascoe's work suggests that boys in high school use the fag epithet as a way to assert their own masculinity, by claiming that another boy is less masculine; this, in their eyes, makes him a fag, and its usage suggests that it is less about sexual orientation and more about gender. One-third of the boys in Pascoe's study claimed that they would not call a homosexual peer a fag; fag is used in this setting as a form of gender policing, in which boys ridicule others who fail at masculinity, heterosexual prowess, or strength. Because boys do not want to be labeled a fag, they hurl the insult at another person. The fag identity does not constitute a static identity attached to the boy receiving the insult. Rather, fag is a fluid identity that boys strive to avoid, often by naming another as the fag. As Pascoe asserts, "[the fag identity] is fluid enough that boys police their behaviors out of fear of having the fag identity permanently adhere and definitive enough so that boys recognize a fag behavior and strive to avoid it". Pascoe's study reports that gender policing is most common among white boys, while black boys are more concerned with "acting" appropriately black. The black youth in Pascoe's study often ridiculed one another for "acting white", and did not express gender policing to the same degree as white boys.[14]

Use in popular culture

Benjamin Phelps, Fred Phelps' grandson and creator of the first "GodHatesFags" webpage, is also from the Westboro Baptist Church which regularly employs picket signs such as these using fag as epithet.[15]

There is a long history of using both fag and faggot in popular culture, usually to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, based on Vito Russo's book of the same name notes the use of fag and faggot throughout Hollywood film history.[16] The Think Before You Speak (campaign) has sought to stop fag and gay being used as generic insults.[17]


In 1973 a broadway musical called "The Faggot" was praised by critics but condemned by gay liberation proponents.[18]

Books and magazines

Larry Kramer's 1978 novel Faggots discusses the gay community including the use of the word within and towards the community.[19] A description of Pamela Moore's 1956 novel Chocolates for Breakfast in the Warner Books 1982 culture guide The Catalog of Cool reads: "Her fifteen-year-old heroine first balls a fag actor in H’wood, then makes it with some hermetic, filthy rich, hotel-bound Italian count".[20][21]

In its November 2002 issue, the New Oxford Review, a Catholic magazine, caused controversy by its use and defense of the word in an editorial. During the correspondence between the editors and a gay reader, the editors clarified that they would only use the word to describe a "practicing homosexual". They defended the use of the word, saying that it was important to preserve the social stigma of gays and lesbians.[22]


Arlo Guthrie uses the epithet in his 1967 signature song "Alice's Restaurant". noting it as a potential way to avoid military induction at the time.[23] The Dire Straits 1985 song "Money for Nothing" makes notable use of the epithet faggot,[24] although the lines containing it are often excised for radio play, and in live performances by singer/songwriter Mark Knopfler. The song was banned from airplay by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council in 2011 but the ban was reversed later the same year.[25] In 1989, Sebastian Bach, lead singer of the band Skid Row, created a controversy when he wore a t-shirt with the parody slogan "Aids: Kills Fags Dead".[26] The 2001 song "American Triangle" by Elton John and Bernie Taupin uses the phrase God hates fags where we come from.. The song is about Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming man who was killed because he was gay.[27] The 2007 song The Bible Says, which includes the line "God Hates Fags" (sometimes used as an alternate title) caused considerable controversy when it was published on various websites. Apparently an anti-gay song written and performed by an ex-gay pastor "Donnie Davies", it was accompanied by the realistic Love God's Way website about his "ministry". Debate ensued about whether Donnie Davies and the outrageous song, which included a few double entendres, were for real, and whether the lyrics could ever be considered acceptable even in satire. Donnie Davies was revealed in 2007 to be a character played by actor and entertainer. Some gay rights advocates acknowledge that as a spoof it is humorous, but claim the message behind it is still as malicious as someone who seriously possessed the opinion.[28][29][30] In December 2007, BBC Radio 1 caused controversy by editing the word faggot from their broadcasts of the Kirsty MacColl & The Pogues song "Fairytale of New York", deeming it potentially homophobic; however, the edit did not extend to other BBC stations, such as BBC Radio 2. Following widespread criticism and pressure from listeners, the decision was reversed and the original unedited version of the song was reinstated, with clarification from Andy Parfitt, the station controller, that in the context of the song the lyrics had no "negative intent".[31][32] Patty Griffin uses the word faggot in her song "Tony" about a classmate of hers from high school who committed suicide.[33]

Television and news media

In 1995, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey referred to openly gay congressman Barney Frank as "Barney Fag" in a press interview.[34] Armey apologized and said it was "a slip of the tongue". Frank did not accept Armey's explanation, saying "I turned to my own expert, my mother, who reports that in 59 years of marriage, no one ever introduced her as Elsie Fag".[35]

In July 2006 conservative pundit Ann Coulter, while being interviewed by MSNBC's Chris Matthews, said that the former U.S. Vice President Al Gore was a "total fag", and suggested that former U.S. President Bill Clinton may be a "latent homosexual".[36] Coulter caused a major controversy in the LGBT community; GLAAD and other gay rights organizations demanded to know the reason why such an offensive usage of the word was permitted by the network. In March 2007, Coulter again created controversy when she made an off-color joke: "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot', so I'm kind of at an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards".[37][38] Her comments triggered a campaign by a gay rights group and media watchdog to persuade mainstream media outlets to ban her shows and appearances.

In October 2006, Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington called his co-star T. R. Knight a "faggot" on the set during an argument with Patrick Dempsey. According to Knight, the incident led to him publicly coming out of the closet.[39] Washington made another outburst using the epithet, this time backstage at the Golden Globe Awards. In January 2007, Washington issued a public apology for using the word faggot and went into rehab to help him with what the show's creator Shonda Rhimes referred to as "his behavioral issues".[40]

In November 2009, the South Park episode "The F Word" dealt with the overuse of the word fag. The boys use the word to insult a group of bikers, saying that their loud motorcycles ruin everyone else's nice time. Officials from the dictionary, including Emmanuel Lewis attend in the town and agree that the meaning of the word should no longer insult homosexuals but instead be used to describe loud motorcycle riders who ruin others' nice times. The episode is commentary on the overuse of certain terms like fag and gay. [41][42][43][44]


See also


  1. ^ Berk, Brett (January 8, 2009). "The Heartwarming Story of Fagbug". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 1, 2009. 
  2. ^ Raymundo, Oscar (December 19, 2007). "Driven to Spread Awareness". Newsweek. Retrieved December 13, 2008. [dead link]
  3. ^ "Faggot". Retrieved November 16, 2013. 
  4. ^ 2008, Paul Ryan Brewer, Value war: public opinion and the politics of gay rights, page 60
  5. ^ a b The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin. 2000. ISBN 0-618-70172-9. 
  6. ^ Spears, Richard A. (2007). "Fag". Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions. Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Studies in Etymology and Etiology, David L. Gold, Antonio Lillo Buades, Félix Rodríguez González - 2009 page 781
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Harper, Douglas. "Faggot". The Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  9. ^ a b "Faggot". The Oxford English Dictionary. 
  10. ^ a b c Morton, Mark (2005), Dirty Words: The Story of Sex Talk, London: Atlantic Books, pp. 309–323 
  11. ^ "MP's 'faggot' abuse 'disgraceful'". LGBTGreens. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  12. ^ Helm, Toby; Jones, George (11 November 2005). "Panic and a punch-up as Blair tumbles to defeat at the hands of his own party". The Daily Telegraph (London). Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. Retrieved 2009-11-21. 
  13. ^ Wilton, David / Brunetti, Ivan. Word myths: debunking linguistic urban legends Oxford University Press US, 2004. Page 176. ISBN 0-19-517284-1, ISBN 978-0-19-517284-3
  14. ^ Pascoe, C. J. (2007), Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press 
  15. ^ The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament: Volume 1 (1992), Warren W. Wiersbe, David C. Cook, ISBN 1-56476-030-8, ISBN 978-1-56476-030-2
  16. ^ The Celluloid Closet; (1995) Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
  17. ^ 'That's So Gay': Words That Can Kill Susan Donaldson James, ABC News, 20 April 2009.
  18. ^ Clive Barnes (August 4, 1973). "US unisex: continuing the trend". The Times. p. 7. The theme of The Faggot is set at the beginning which shows ... one man picking up another in a movie house. 
  19. ^ Larry Kramer (2000). Faggots. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-3691-6. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  20. ^ Nedelkoff, Robert (1997). "Pamela Moore Plus Forty". The Baffler (10): 104–117. Retrieved March 2, 2015. 
  21. ^ Sculatti, Gene (October 1982). The Catalog of Cool. Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-446-37515-3. Retrieved March 2, 2015. 
  22. ^ "Sodom & the City of God". Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  23. ^ Guthrie, Arlo (1967). "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (lyrics). Alice's Restaurant. Retrieved from the official Arlo Guthrie web site November 26, 2013. "And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them."
  24. ^ Mark Knopfler a Bigger Gay Icon Than George Michael? Ten reasons why. Mike Sealy, Seattle Weekly, July 01, 2008.
  25. ^ Canada Lifts Ban on Dire Straits' 'Money for Nothing'
  26. ^ Michael Musto. "La Dolce Musto", village voice, 2000.
  27. ^ "Rewriting the Motives Behind Matthew Shepard’s Murder". [1]. December 8, 2004. Retrieved 2009-11-23. 
  28. ^ "The Latest!". The Washington Blade. 29 January 2007. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  29. ^ "Dan Savage, "Slog"". The Stranger. 28 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  30. ^ "One Big Conn: When Viral Marketing Misses Its Mark". Philadelphia Weekly. 31 January 2007. Archived from the original on February 10, 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  31. ^ "Radio 1 censors Pogues' Fairytale". BBC News. 18 December 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  32. ^ "Radio 1 reverses decision to censor Pogues hit"3071042.ece". Times Online (London). [dead link]
  33. ^ "Patty Griffin on the Cayamo Cruise". 
  34. ^ "The Masters of Mean". 1 March 2002. 
  35. ^ Rich, Frank (February 2, 1995), "Journal; Closet Clout", The New York Times 
  36. ^ "When hate speech becomes accepted" The Advocate.
  37. ^ "John Edwards Hopes to Raise 'Coulter Cash' After Commentator's 'Faggot' Comment – Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum". 4 March 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  38. ^ "Broadcast Yourself". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  39. ^ Nudd, Tim (17 January 2007). "Isaiah Washington's Slur Made Me Come Out – Grey's Anatomy, Isaiah Washington". People. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  40. ^ E! News – Isaiah Enters Treatment – Isaiah Washington | T.R. Knight | Patrick Dempsey[dead link]
  41. ^ "South Park episode guide". South Park Studios. 2 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 
  42. ^ Jones, Michael A. (November 6, 2009). "Should South Park Get Away with Using the F-Word?". Retrieved 2009-11-18. 
  43. ^ Genevieve Koski (November 4, 2009). "The F Word". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  44. ^ "GLAAD protests 'South Park' f-bomb episode". James Hibberd's The Live Feed. November 5, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 

External links