|Palare, Parlary, Palarie, Palari|
|Region||United Kingdom and Ireland|
Second language only
Polari (or alternatively Parlare, Parlary, Palare, Palarie, Palari; from Italian parlare, "to talk") is a form of cant slang used in Britain by actors, circus and fairground showmen, merchant navy sailors, criminals, prostitutes, and the gay subculture. There is some debate about its origins, but it can be traced back to at least the 19th century and possibly the 16th century. There is a longstanding connection with Punch and Judy street puppet performers who traditionally used Polari to converse.
Polari is a mixture of Romance (Italian or Mediterranean Lingua Franca), London slang, backslang, rhyming slang, sailor slang, and thieves' cant. Later it expanded to contain words from the Yiddish language, from the U.S. forces (present in the UK during World War II) and from 1960s drug users. It was a constantly developing form of language, with a small core lexicon of about 20 words (including bona, ajax, eek, cod, naff, lattie, nanti, omi, palone, riah, zhoosh (tjuz), TBH, trade, vada), and over 500 other lesser-known words. A Channel 4 television documentary revealed that (in London) there was once an "East End" version which stressed Cockney rhyming slang and a "West End" version which stressed theatrical and Classical influences. There was some interchange between the two.
Polari was used in London fishmarkets, the theatre, fairgrounds and circuses, hence the many borrowings from Romany. As many homosexual men worked in theatrical entertainment it was also used among the gay subculture, at a time when homosexual activity was illegal, to disguise homosexuals from hostile outsiders and undercover policemen. It was also used extensively in the British Merchant Navy, where many gay men joined ocean liners and cruise ships as waiters, stewards and entertainers. On one hand, it would be used as a means of cover to allow gay subjects to be discussed aloud without being understood; on the other hand, it was also used by some, particularly the most visibly camp and effeminate, as a further way of asserting their identity.
The almost identical Parlyaree has been spoken in fairgrounds since at least the 17th century and continues to be used by show travellers in England and Scotland. As theatrical booths, circus acts and menageries were once a common part of European fairs it is likely that the roots of Polari/Parlyaree lie in the period before both theatre and circus became independent of the fairgrounds. The Parlyaree spoken on fairgrounds tends to borrow much more from Romany, as well as other languages and argots spoken by travelling people, such as cant and backslang.
Henry Mayhew gave a verbatim account of Polari as part of an interview with a Punch and Judy showman in the 1850s. The discussion he recorded references the arrival of Punch in England, crediting these early shows to a performer from Italy called Porcini (see also John Payne Collier's account of Porsini—Payne Collier calls him Porchini—in Punch and Judy). Mayhew provides the following:[clarification needed]
Punch Talk"'Bona Parle' means language; name of patter. 'Yeute munjare' – no food. 'Yeute lente' – no bed. 'Yeute bivare' – no drink. I've 'yeute munjare,' and 'yeute bivare,' and, what's worse, 'yeute lente.' This is better than the costers' talk, because that ain't no slang and all, and this is a broken Italian, and much higher than the costers' lingo. We know what o'clock it is, besides."
There are additional accounts of particular words that relate to puppet performance: "'Slumarys' – figures, frame, scenes, properties. 'Slum' – call, or unknown tongue" ("unknown" is a reference to the "swazzle", a voice modifier used by Punch performers, the structure of which was a longstanding trade secret).
Decline in use
Polari had begun to fall into disuse amongst the gay subculture by the late 1960s. The popularity of the Julian and Sandy characters played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick ensured that this secret language became public property, and the gay liberationists of the 1970s viewed it as rather degrading, divisive and politically incorrect as it was often used to gossip about, or criticise, others, as well as to discuss sexual exploits. In addition, the need for a secret subculture code declined with the legalisation of adult homosexual acts in England and Wales in 1967.
In popular culture
In the first series of British comedians' panel television series Jokers Wild (1969), comedian Ray Martine is asked to explain the term palone (woman), which he used while telling a joke. In response to the definition, programme presenter Barry Cryer refers to Martine as a bona omi (good man).
Since the mid-1990s, with the redistribution of tapes and CDs of Round The Horne, and with increasing academic interest, Polari has undergone something of a revival. New words are being invented and updated to refer to more recent cultural concepts.
The 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, which chronicles a fictional retelling of the rise and fall of glam rock, contains a flashback to 1970 in which a group of characters converse in Polari, while their words are humorously subtitled below.
In 2002, two books on Polari were published, Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men, and Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang (both by Paul Baker). Also in 2002, hip hop artist Juha released an album called Polari, with the chorus of the title song written entirely in the slang.
Entry into standard English
A number of words from Polari have entered mainstream slang; some recent examples are:
There are a number of folk etymologies, many based on acronyms—Not Available For Fucking, Normal As Fuck—though these are backronyms. More likely etymologies include northern UK dialect naffhead, naffin, or naffy, a simpleton or blockhead; niffy-naffy, inconsequential, stupid, or Scots nyaff, a term of contempt for any unpleasant or objectionable person. An alternative etymology may lie in the Romany naflo, itself rooted in násfalo, meaning ill.
"Zhoosh" (//, // or //), meaning to smarten up, style or improve something, has become commonplace more recently, having been used on the TV series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and What Not to Wear. Its initial consonant has led new users to generate variant spellings such as "zoosh", "soozh", "tszuj", "zhoozh" "juushz" etc.[clarification needed] In some pronunciations, the word begins and ends with the same phoneme, the voiced postalveolar fricative, which can be heard as the "s" sound in the words "television" and "pleasure". Others pronounce the final consonant like the "sh" in "push".
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2012)|
|For a list of words relating to Polari, see the Polari language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|ajax||nearby (from adjacent?)|
|alamo||hot for you/him|
|aunt nell||listen, hear|
|aunt nelly fakes||earrings|
|aunt nell danglers||earrings|
|basket||the bulge of male genitals through clothes|
|bitch||effeminate or passive gay man|
|bijou||small/little (means "jewel" in French)|
|blue||code word for "homosexual"|
|bona nochy||goodnight (from Italian - buona notte)|
|bungery||pub, this comes from the English word for the closure on a barrel.|
|butch||masculine; masculine lesbian|
|buvare||a drink (from Italian - bere or old-fashioned Italian - bevere or Lingua Franca bevire)|
|camp||effeminate (possibly from Italian campare "exaggerate, make stand out")|
|capello/capella||hat (from Italian, also Greek - cappello)|
|carsey||toilet, also spelt khazi|
|carts/cartso||penis (from Italian - cazzo)|
|charper||to search (from Italian - acchiappare - to catch)|
|charver||to shag/a shag (sexual intercourse) (from Italian - chiavare)|
|cottage||a public lavatory used for sexual encounters|
|cottaging||seeking or obtaining sexual encounters in public lavatories|
|dally||sweet, kind. Possibly an alternate pronunciation of dolly.|
|dilly boy||a male prostitute|
|dinari||money (Latin denarii was the 'd' of the pre decimal penny)|
|dolly||pretty, nice, pleasant|
|dona||woman (perhaps from Italian donna or Lingua Franca dona)|
|dorcas||term of endearment, 'one who cares'. The Dorcas Society was a ladies' church association of the nineteenth century, which made clothes for the poor.|
|drag||clothes, esp. women's clothes (prob from Romani — indraka — skirt; also possibly from German - tragen - v. to wear (clothes))|
|eek||face (abbreviation of ecaf)|
|feele/freely/filly||child/young (from the Italian figlio, for son)|
|HP (homy polone)||effeminate gay man|
|jarry||food, also mangarie (from Italian mangiare or Lingua Franca mangiaria)|
|khazi||toilet, also spelt carsey|
|latty/lattie||room, house or flat|
|lilly||police (Lilly Law)|
|lyles||legs (prob. from "Lisle stockings")|
|luppers||fingers (Yiddish — lapa — paw)|
|mangarie||food, also jarry (from Italian mangiare or Lingua Franca mangiaria)|
|meese||plain, ugly (from Yiddish "meeiskeit, in turn from Hebrew מָאוּס repulsive, loathsome, despicable, abominable)|
|meshigener||nutty, crazy, mental (from Yiddish, in turn from Hebrew מְשֻׁגָּע crazy)|
|metzas||money (Italian -mezzi "means, wherewithal")|
|naff||awful, dull, hetero|
|nanti||not, no, none (Italian — niente)|
|national handbag||dole, welfare, government financial assistance|
|omi||man (from Romance)|
|omi-palone||effeminate man, or homosexual|
|onk||nose (cf "conk")|
|oven||mouth (nanti pots in the oven = no teeth in the mouth)|
|palare pipe||telephone ("talk pipe")|
|plate||feet; to fellate|
|palone||woman (Italian paglione - "straw mattress", [cf. old Cant "hay-bag" = woman]); also spelled "polony" in Graham Greene's 1938 novel Brighton Rock|
|rough trade||a working class or blue collar sex partner or potential sex partner; a tough, thuggish or potentially violent sex partner|
|scarper||to run off (from Italian scappare, to escape or run away or from rhyming slang Scapa Flow, to go)|
|scotch||leg (scotch egg=leg)|
|sharpy||policeman (from — charpering omi)|
|shush||steal (from client)|
|shyker/shyckle||wig (mutation of the Yiddish sheitel)|
|so||homosexual (e.g. "Is he 'so'?")|
|tober||road (a Shelta word, Irish bóthar)|
|tootsie trade||sex between two passive homosexuals (as in: 'I don't do tootsie trade')|
|trade||sex, sex-partner, potential sex-partner|
|troll||to walk about (esp. looking for trade)|
|vada/varder||to see (from Italian — dialect vardare = guardare - look at)
vardered — vardering
|vogue||cigarette (from Lingua Franca — fogus - "fire, smoke")|
|yews||(from French "yeux") eyes|
|zhoosh||style hair, tart up, mince
(Romani - "zhouzho" - clean, neat)
zhoosh our riah — style our hair
Polari in use
Omies and palones of the jury, vada well at the eek of the poor ome who stands before you, his lallies trembling.—taken from "Bona Law", a Round The Horne sketch written by Barry Took and Marty Feldman
- Translation: "Men and women of the jury, look well at the face of the poor man who stands before you, his legs trembling."
So bona to vada...oh you! Your lovely eek and your lovely riah.—taken from "Piccadilly Palare", a song by Morrissey
- Translation: "So good to see...oh you! Your lovely face and your lovely hair."
As feely ommes...we would zhoosh our riah, powder our eeks, climb into our bona new drag, don our batts and troll off to some bona bijou bar. In the bar we would stand around with our sisters, vada the bona cartes on the butch omme ajax who, if we fluttered our ogle riahs at him sweetly, might just troll over to offer a light for the unlit vogue clenched between our teeth.—taken from Parallel Lives, the memoirs of renowned gay journalist Peter Burton
- Translation: "As young men...we would style our hair, powder our faces, climb into our great new clothes, don our shoes and wander/walk off to some great little bar. In the bar we would stand around with our gay companions, look at the great genitals on the butch man nearby who, if we fluttered our eyelashes at him sweetly, might just wander/walk over to offer a light for the unlit cigarette clenched between our teeth."
- African American Vernacular English (sometimes called Ebonics)
- Caló (Chicano)
- Carny, North American fairground cant
- Fairground (disambiguation)
- Bahasa Binan
- Gayle language
- Lavender linguistics
- Lunfardo and Vesre
- Rhyming slang
- Thieves' cant
- Baker, Paul (2002) Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang. London: Continuum: ISBN 0-8264-5961-7
- Baker, Paul (2002) Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men. London: Routledge: ISBN 0-415-26180-5
- Elmes, Simon & Rosen, Michael (2002) Word of Mouth. Oxford University Press: ISBN 0-19-866263-7
- Polari reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- "Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition (online version)". Ethnologue.com. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
- Quinion, Michael (1996). "How bona to vada your eek!". WorldWideWords. Retrieved February 20, 2006.
- Collins English Dictionary, Third Edition
- Henry Mayhew, London Labor and the London Poor,  Vol3, Dover Press, New York, 1968 p47
- "British Spies: Licensed to be Gay." Time. August 19, 2008
- Baker, Paul (2002) Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang. London: Continuum ISBN 0-8264-5961-7
- "Gay men in the Merchant Marine, Liverpool Maritime Museum". Liverpoolmuseums.org.uk. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
- Partridge, Eric (1937) Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
- Punch and Judy. (with Illustrations by George Cruickshank). Thomas Hailes Lacey, London, 1859
- Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 206. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
- Quinion, Michael. "Naff". World Wide Words. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
- Waterhouse, Keith (1959). Billy Liar. Michael Joseph. pp. 35, 46. ISBN 0-7181-1155-9. p35 "Naff off, Stamp, for Christ sake!" p46 "Well which one of them's got the naffing engagement ring?"
- "Definition for zhoosh - Oxford Dictionaries Online (World English)". Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
||This article's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or guidelines. (November 2010)|
|Look up naff in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Chris Denning's article on Polari with bibliography
- Hugh Young's Lexicon of Polari
- The Polari Bible compiled by The Manchester Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
- Polari Mission exhibit at the University of Manchester's John Rylands Library
- Colin Richardson, The Guardian, 17 January 2005, "What brings you trolling back, then?"
- BBC - Voices, An interview with four members of a project for older gay men. (In voice clip 2, Polari is spoken)
- Polari FAQ
- Juha's Polari album
- Liverpool Museums: The secret language of polari