Gayle language

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Region South Africa: mainly in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein, and Port Elizabeth
Native speakers
20,000 second- or third-language speakers
based on varying mixtures of English and Afrikaans, with similarity to Polari
Language codes
ISO 639-3 gic
Glottolog gail1235[2]

Gayle, or Gail, is an English and Afrikaans-based gay argot or cant slang used primarily by English and Afrikaans-speaking homosexual men in urban communities of South Africa, and is similar in some respects to Polari in the United Kingdom, from which some lexical items have been borrowed. The equivalent language used by homosexual South African men who speak Bantu languages is called IsiNgqumo, and is based on a Nguni lexicon.

Gayle originally manifested as "moffietaal" (Afrikaans: literally, "homosexual language") in the drag culture of the Cape Coloured community in the 1950s. It permeated into white homosexual circles in the 1960s and became part of mainstream white gay culture through South African Airways "koffie-moffies" (Afrikaans: literally, "coffee gay men," a slang name for flight attendants) in the 1970s.[citation needed]

Besides a few core words borrowed from Polari (such as the word varda meaning "to see", itself a borrowing from Lingua Franca), most of Gayle's words are alliterative formations using women's names, such as Beulah for "beauty", Priscilla, meaning "police", and Hilda for "hideous". Men, especially other homosexual men, are often referred to by female pronouns in some circles, as is the custom among many homosexual countercultures throughout the world.(Cage, 1999, p. 36)

Gayle arose for the same reason that most antilanguages develop in marginalised communities—to have a secret language in an oppressive society. However it also fulfilled other functions such as to "camp up" conversation, and provide entertainment in a subculture where verbal wit and repartee are highly valued.


Varda that Beulah! Vast mitzi. She's a chicken and probably Priscilla and I don't need Jennifer Justice in my life right now.

Translation: "Look at that beauty! Very me. He's young and probably a policeman and I don't need trouble with the law in my life at the moment." (From the Exclusive Books' review of Gayle: the language of Kinks and Queens)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Gayle at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Gayle". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  • Ken Cage. Gayle - the Language of Kinks & Queens. A History and Dictionary of Gay Language in South Africa. Jacana Media 2003. ISBN 1-919931-49-X. (link)
  • Ken Cage. "An investigation into the form and function of language used by gay men in South Africa". Unpublished M.A. thesis 1999. Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg, South Africa