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lavender language

noun [countable/uncountable]

the special dialect and vocabulary used by the gay community

'According to Bill Leap, co-ordinator of the 10th Annual American University Conference on Lavender Languages and Linguistics, homosexuals communicate with each other in ways that are "different from the linguistic practices of non-lesbian/gay-identified persons".'

Michael L. Betsch, CNSnews.com 6th February 2003

For some 10 years now, scholars and students have been gathering annually in Washington DC to discuss topics in the field of so-called lavender language and linguistics, the term used for issues relating to the pronunciation, vocabulary and meaning of the language of the gay community. Over in the UK, Paul Baker, lecturer in linguistics at Lancaster University, has spent several years researching this dialect, adopting the subject as a PhD topic and authoring three books in the field of lavender linguistics.

the colour lavender is often used to identify 'gay-friendly' environments, hence its use
in terminology surrounding
gay issues

Lavender language functions as a kind of homosexual code, characterised by acronyms, plays on words and double meanings only intended to be understood by the gay community.

This alternative sense of the adjective lavender is, in fact, used productively in a variety of issues surrounding the gay community, and in the linguistic context occurs in descriptions such as lavender texts, lavender phonology/terminology and the lavender lexicon.

Background – lavender language

The colour lavender is often used to identify 'gay-friendly' environments, hence its use in terminology surrounding gay issues.

Lavender language is, in fact, a modern adaptation of Polari, a lexicon used in the 1950s and early 1960s by gay men as a secret language which concealed their homosexuality in the face of the repressive society of the time. Polari was famously used by the late British actor Kenneth Williams, in a 1960s radio programme entitled Round the Horne. The open use of the dialect in a radio broadcast was indicative of a changing climate in attitudes to homosexuality.

Today's lavender terminology is widely anglicized, but Polari was based on languages such as Italian, French, Yiddish and the slang of particular social groups such as sailors or fairground people. Some key lexical items still in use today are bona, meaning 'good' or 'well', ajax, meaning 'next to', eek, meaning 'face' and vada, meaning 'to look'.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 31st October 2003.

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