LGBT slang

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LGBT slang, LGBT speak or gay slang is a set of slang used predominantly among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. It has been used in various languages, including English and Japanese since the early 1900s as a means by which members of the LGBT community can identify themselves and speak in code with brevity and speed to other LGBTs.[1][2]

Because of sodomy laws and threat of prosecution due to the criminalization of homosexuality, LGBT slang also serves as an argot, a secret language and a way for the LGBT community to communicate with each other publicly without revealing their sexual orientation to others.[2][3][4]

Since the advent of queer studies in universities, LGBT slang and argot has become a subject of academic research among linguistic anthropology scholars.[5]

Cultural impact[edit]

Many terms that originated as gay slang have become part of the popular lexicon. For example, the word drag was popularized by Hubert Selby, Jr. in his book Last Exit to Brooklyn. "Drag" has been traced back by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to the late 19th Century. Conversely, words such as banjee, while well-established in a subset of gay society, have never made the transition to popular use.


Slang is ephemeral. Terms used in one generation may pass out of usage in another. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s the terms "cottage" (UK) and "tearoom" (US) were used to denote public toilets used for sex. By 1999 these had fallen out of use to the point of being unrecognizable by members of the LGBT community.[6]

United Kingdom[edit]

During the first seven decades of the 20th century, a specific form of Polari was developed by gay men and lesbians in urban centers with established LGBT communities.[7][8]

Although there are differences, modern gay slang has adopted many Polari words, as detailed in the table below:

Source: Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang[9]
Glossary of gay slang taken from Polari
Word Approximate meaning
basket the bulge of male genitals visible through clothing
bear a large, often hairy man
bumming the act of anal sex
chicken/fox/twink young man
cottaging having or looking for sex in a public toilet
cub a young bear
gym bunny/Muscle Mary A person who works out merely for aesthetics
Hada Blow-Job
Kuda speaking
howdy touching another male/females behind
Uros Anal Sex
wolf a man who tends to fall evenly between a fox/twink and a bear/cub
zhoosh style
twink usually young or young-looking, hairless man


Scruff launched a Gay Slang Dictionary App in January 2014.[10] It includes commonly used slang in the United States from the gay community. Some of these cross over with the British slang, and some are only American.

Source: Scruff - Gay Slang Dictionary[11]
Glossary of US Gay Slang
Word Approximate meaning
bear a large, often hairy man
bear chaser a man who pursues bears
bottom the receptive sexual partner
daddy typically an older, financially established gay man
discreet gay man who is reserved, private, or secretive about his identity
kink non-standard sexual activity, fetish, or interest.
NSA no strings attached; casual sex.
otter thinner, hairier gay man
poz HIV positive person
top the inserting sexual partner


Although many slang words used in modern Japan are "loanwords" from American English, many native Japanese slang words remain in Japan's LGBT community such as the term "okoge", which serves the same purpose of the English slang word, "fag hag" – a "woman whose friends are mostly homosexual men".[2] Although the literal English translation of okoge is burnt rice that sticks to the bottom of a pot. This is in reference to the Japanese equivalent to "faggot", okama (御釜, お釜, or 御竈; pot).[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paul Baker (2002). Polari – The Lost Manguage of Gay Men. Routledge. p. 119. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c Long, Daniel: "Formation Processes of Some Japanese Gay Argot Terms", American Speech, Vol. 71, No. 2 (Summer, 1996), pp. 215–224. Duke University Press, 1996.
  3. ^ Ken Cage and Moyra Evans (2003). Gayle: The Language of Kinks and Queens: A History and Dictionary of Gay Language in South Africa. Jacana Media. p. 16. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  4. ^ Lena Hamaida (2007). "Subtitling Slang and Dialect". EU High Level Scientific Conference. p. 5. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  5. ^ Proschan, Frank: "Review: Recognizing Gay and Lesbian Speech", American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 99, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 164–166.
  6. ^ Leap, William, ed.: Public Sex/Gay Space, Columbia University Press, 1999. p. 61.
  7. ^ Paul Baker (2002). Polari – The Lost Language of Gay Men. Routledge. p. 1. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  8. ^ Quinion, Michael (1996). "How bona to vada your eek!". WorldWideWords. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  9. ^ Paul Baker (2002). Fantabulosa: The Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang. Continuum. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  10. ^ "SCRUFF, Gay App, Launches 'Gay Slang Dictionary'". Huffington Post. 12 March 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  11. ^ "Scruff - Gay Slang Dictionary". Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  12. ^ McLelland, Mark (2000). "Male Homosexuality and Popular Culture in Modern Japan". Intersections: Gender, History & Culture in the Asian Context (3). Retrieved 24 February 2007. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]