Gay Slang Makes UK Comeback
Times, January 24, 2005
(Reuters)—How bona to vada your dolly old eek again!
Polari, the gay slang used as a secret underground language before the
decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain back in the 1960s, is making a
But don’t go reaching for the dictionary to find out
what on earth they are talking about. You will need a special polari glossary
to translate your way into this outrageously camp world where Bona means good,
vada is to see and your dolly old eek is your lovely face.
The argot is a polyglot mixture of Italian, Spanish,
Yiddish, Romany and Cockney rhyming slang that provides a passport into a once
secret world where love “dare not speak its name.”
This rehabilitation, with a hit London play and a camp
cabaret adopting polari, marks a milestone in the mainstreaming of gay
culture, much more at ease with itself and ready to reflect with fondness on
“Gay culture is finally ready to look back on its
history in an objective and kinder way,” said Paul Baker, who can lay claim
to be the world’s leading expert on polari after writing two books and his
PHD on the slang.
The linguistics expert is also the author of “Hello
Sailor! Seafaring Life for Gay Men 1945-1990.” “When the gay liberation
front came along, they wanted to distance themselves from the image of queenie,
limp-wristed gay men and show they could be more macho than straight men,”
Baker told Reuters.
Sex between males over the age of 21 was legalised in
1967, ending centuries in the shadows for gays constantly facing the threat of
“They were ground-breaking and brave people in their
way. It’s good that there is no need any more for a secret language but
polari still has its fascinations,” Baker said.
Polari first broke out of the closet in the late Sixties
with Julian and Sandy, two camp characters in the BBC cult radio show “Round
the Horne” who screeched their way through double entendre comedy routines
laced with bitchy gossip. They were forever trolling (walking) down to a
fantabulosa (wonderful) bar for a bijou drinkette. As feele homies (young men)
they would love to zhoosh their riah (fix their hair).
Now history has come full circle. “Round the Horne”
has been turned into a London theatre hit that introduced a new generation to