Jump to content


Page semi-protected
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Faggot (slang))

Faggot, often shortened to fag in American usage, is a term, usually considered a slur, used to refer to gay men.[1][2] In American youth culture around the turn of the 21st century, its meaning extended as a broader reaching insult more related to masculinity and group power structure.[3]

The usage of fag and faggot has spread from the United States to varying extents elsewhere in the English-speaking world (especially the UK) through mass culture, including film, music, and the internet.


The first recorded use of faggot as a pejorative term for gay men was in the 1914 A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang, while the shortened form fag first appeared in 1923 in The Hobo by Nels Anderson.[4]: 301  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.[5][6]

The word faggot has been used in English since the late 16th century as an abusive term for women, particularly old women,[6] and reference to homosexuality may derive from this,[5][7] 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 meager living by gathering and selling firewood.[7] 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).[5]

An alternative possibility is that the word is connected with the practice of fagging in British public 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 usage.[5]

The Yiddish word faygele, lit. "little bird", itself a pejorative term for a gay man, has been claimed by some to be related to the American usage. 'Faygele' (pronounced 'Faiggelleh') is the nickname for a young girl named Faigie ("bird") after Moses' wife Zipporah (Hebrew: "bird"). The similarity between the two words makes it possible that it might at least have had a reinforcing effect.[5][7]

There is an urban legend, called an "oft-reprinted assertion" by Douglas R. Harper, creator of the Online Etymology Dictionary, 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 any historical death penalties for homosexuality; moreover, homosexuality in England and its colonies was never punished by immolation but instead by the accused being hanged and their property taken.[5][8]


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":[9]

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

The word fag is used in 1923 in The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man by Nels Anderson:

“Fairies or Fags are men or boys who exploit sex for profit.”[10]

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"

Use in the United Kingdom

Originally confined to the United States,[5] the use of the words fag and faggot as slurs 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 US 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 in the UK also refers to a kind of meatball. In British English, 'fag' is common slang for a cigarette, sometimes also used to describe a tedious task.[11]

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.[12][13]

Usage by youth

Through ethnographic research in a high school setting, CJ Pascoe examined how American high school boys used the term fag during the early 2000s. Pascoe's work, culminating in a 2007 book titled Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, suggested that these boys used the fag slur 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, leading Pascoe to argue that 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. Pascoe felt 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 fag behavior and strive to avoid it."[3]

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 slur.[14]

There is a long history of using both fag and faggot in popular culture, usually in reference to gay and bisexual men. 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.[15] The Think Before You Speak campaign has sought to stop fag and gay being used as generic insults.[16]


In 1973, a Broadway musical called The Faggot was praised by critics but condemned by gay liberation proponents.[17]

Books and magazines

Larry Kramer's 1978 novel Faggots discusses the gay community including the use of the word within and towards the community.[18] 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."[19][20]

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.[21]



Arlo Guthrie uses the slur in his 1967 signature song "Alice's Restaurant", noting it as a potential way to avoid military induction at the time (Guthrie had removed the word from live performances of the song in the 21st century).[22]

Phil Ochs uses the slur in his 1969 song "I Kill Therefore I Am". In the song, which is written from the point of view of a hateful police officer, he uses the slur to describe the student activists who protested the Vietnam War.


The Dire Straits 1985 song "Money for Nothing" makes notable use of the slur faggot,[23] 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.[24] Ironically, the song in context makes it clear he is actually mocking the jealous and homophobic nature of the antagonist in the song by adopting a third-person point of view to show the irony, bigotry, and ignorance of the character.[25][26]

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".[27]


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 gay man from Wyoming whose 1998 murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation at both the state and federal level.

In December 2007, BBC Radio 1 caused controversy by editing the word faggot from their broadcasts of the Kirsty MacColl and 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".[28][29]


Eminem used the word in numerous works, such as "Rap God" (2013), along with an inflammatory lyric containing the term being removed from "Fall".[30][31][32]

A number of rappers have also used the slur in songs supporting the LGBT community. In 2012, Macklemore used the word faggot in the song "Same Love" in reference to the use of the homophobic slur in cyberbullying.[33] Kendrick Lamar's 2022 song "Auntie Diaries" is also supportive of the LGBT community; however, it sparked controversy for its repeated use of the slur, as well as for deadnaming his transgender uncle.[34][35]


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 ruined everyone else's nice time. Officials from the dictionary, including Emmanuel Lewis, visit 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.[36] The episode is a satire on the taboo of using the term, as it goes against political correctness.[37][38]


In response to "fag" graffiti spray-painted on her car, an owner of a New Volkswagen Beetle named it the "Fagbug" and embarked on a trans-American road trip to raise awareness of homophobia and LGBT rights. The journey was documented in a film of the same name.[39][40]

Some LGBTQ+ people have reclaimed the term as a neutral or positive term of self-description.[41][42][43]

See also


  1. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin. 2000. ISBN 0-618-70172-9.
  2. ^ 2008, Paul Ryan Brewer, Value war: public opinion and the politics of gay rights, page 60
  3. ^ a b Pascoe, C. J. (2007), Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press
  4. ^ Zimmerman, Bonnie; Haggerty, George E., eds. (June 13, 2021). Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. New York: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-135-72870-0. OCLC 1263808583.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Harper, Douglas. "Faggot". The Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  6. ^ a b "Faggot". The Oxford English Dictionary.
  7. ^ a b c Morton, Mark (2005), Dirty Words: The Story of Sex Talk, London: Atlantic Books, pp. 309–323
  8. ^ "1533: 25 Henry 8 c.6: The Buggery Act". February 13, 2018.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Anderson, Nels; Chicago Council of Social Agencies (1923). The hobo : the sociology of the homeless man. Robarts - University of Toronto. Chicago : University Press.
  11. ^ "FAG | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary". Dictionary.cambridge.org. May 25, 2022. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  12. ^ "MP's 'faggot' abuse 'disgraceful'". LGBTGreens. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  13. ^ Helm, Toby; Jones, George (November 11, 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 October 14, 2007. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ The Celluloid Closet; (1995) Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
  16. ^ 'That's So Gay': Words That Can Kill Susan Donaldson James, ABC News, April 20, 2009.
  17. ^ Clive Barnes (August 4, 1973). "US unisex: continuing the trend". The Times. p. 7. Archived from the original on June 5, 2010. The theme of The Faggot is set at the beginning which shows ... one man picking up another in a movie house.
  18. ^ Larry Kramer (2000). Faggots. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-3691-6. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  19. ^ Nedelkoff, Robert (1997). "Pamela Moore Plus Forty". The Baffler (10): 104–117. doi:10.1162/bflr.1997.10.104. Archived from the original on October 28, 2012. Retrieved March 2, 2015.
  20. ^ Sculatti, Gene (October 1982). The Catalog of Cool. Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-446-37515-3. Retrieved March 2, 2015.
  21. ^ "Sodom & the City of God". Cityofgod.net. Archived from the original on January 11, 2009. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  22. ^ Guthrie, Arlo (1967). "Alice's Restaurant Massacree Archived May 21, 2007, at the Wayback Machine" (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."
  23. ^ Mark Knopfler a Bigger Gay Icon Than George Michael? Ten reasons why. Mike Sealy, Seattle Weekly, July 1, 2008.
  24. ^ "Canada Lifts Ban on Dire Straits' 'Money for Nothing'". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 14, 2017. Retrieved August 27, 2017.
  25. ^ "Dire Straits' 'Money for Nothing' is not homophobic | Xtra Magazine". January 14, 2011. Retrieved March 13, 2024.
  26. ^ Scocca, Tom (January 14, 2011). ""Money for Nothing" Is Not Really Insulting to Homosexuals, Unless They Are Unlucky Enough to Be Working-Class Homosexuals". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved March 13, 2024.
  27. ^ Michael Musto. "La Dolce Musto" Archived March 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, village voice, 2000.
  28. ^ "Radio 1 censors Pogues' Fairytale". BBC News. December 18, 2007. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  29. ^ "Radio 1 reverses decision to censor Pogues hit"3071042.ece". Times Online. London.[dead link]
  30. ^ "Rap God Lyrics".
  31. ^ "billboard Eminem criticism". Billboard.
  32. ^ "Fall lyrics, see about. genius.com".
  33. ^ "Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Same Love lyrics". Genius. Retrieved February 17, 2022.
  34. ^ Kornhaber, Spencer (May 18, 2022). "The Impossible Ambition of Kendrick Lamar's New Album". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 19, 2023.
  35. ^ Factora, James (May 16, 2022). "Why Kendrick Lamar's "Auntie Diaries" Has Polarized the LGBTQ+ Community". them. Retrieved September 19, 2023.
  36. ^ "South Park episode guide". South Park Studios. November 2, 2009. Retrieved November 2, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  37. ^ Genevieve Koski (November 4, 2009). "The F Word". The A.V. Club. Retrieved November 7, 2009.
  38. ^ "GLAAD protests 'South Park' f-bomb episode". James Hibberd's The Live Feed. November 5, 2009. Archived from the original on November 7, 2009. Retrieved November 7, 2009.
  39. ^ Berk, Brett (January 8, 2009). "The Heartwarming Story of Fagbug". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on May 30, 2009. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
  40. ^ Raymundo, Oscar (December 19, 2007). "Driven to Spread Awareness". Newsweek. Archived from the original on July 25, 2008. Retrieved December 13, 2008.
  41. ^ "Want to reclaim 'faggot'? Great, but be careful how you use it". British GQ. July 6, 2019. Archived from the original on October 16, 2022. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  42. ^ "21 Words the Queer Community Has Reclaimed (and Some We Haven't)". www.advocate.com. August 2, 2017. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  43. ^ Gordon, Zach. "Who Can Say Faggot? A Two Part Study on Online Slur Reclamation". Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2019.

Further reading

External links