Ready for a lesson in language and etymology? Then I shall begin:
Have you ever ogled someone in “clobber” which was tight around the crotch showing off their “basket”? Maybe you called someone a “bitch” and had a “barney” today or saw a slightly “naff” man in “drag” as you left your “bijou” flat which you’d “zhoosed” up a bit before leaving? Maybe you used the “khazi”, hopefully whilst on your “todd” before “mincing” off.
Yes, we gaylords are everywhere and we’ve infiltrated your language; sneaky or what? These words all come from Polari, the ancient language of the covert and shifty homo. Polari is thought to have originated from Italian, French, Yiddish and London street slang and was originally used by circus people in the 1700s, spreading in time to the markets, fairs and theatres of London. Naturally there were a lot of gays hanging around the markets, fairs and theatres of London. In time it became the official secret language of the clandestine homosexual and was spoken quite commonly in 1950s London.
Until homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, gay men needed to be discrete and secretive or risk imprisonment or time in an asylum and polari provided a nice little code. Although there are only about 20 or so core words, most of which covered subject matters relating to hair styles, fashion, attractive men and having your end away, they covered most bases for the homo about town in 50s Soho. What else was there to talk about? The effeminate gay men of the coffee houses and illicit bars were able to converse freely, gossip about everyone and admire men at their leisure and no one understood a word. Genius.
Polari declined once homosexuality was legalised and fell into disuse but a few of the words remained and entered mainstream culture. Princess Anne once shouted “Naff off!” at a photographer so clearly it even has royal approval.
The very naughty Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick played two very camp characters for the BBC radio show “Round the Horne” in the mid 1960s. The boys, Julian and Sandy would speak almost entirely in polari and the dulcet screeches of obscenities which no one understood were broadcast into suburban homes all around Britain; pure subversive genius in my view.
I’m pretty fluent in it myself. It comes in handy from time to time and hours spent listening to Kenneth Williams have taught me the rudiments.
So, without further ado, I’ll uncross my lallies, runa comb through my riah, rearrange the expression on my eke and troll off for a mince round to vada the bona omis. Fantabulosa.