Article Title:History: Polari - The Tongue of Queens!
Category:True Stories
Author or Credit:Craig Young
Published on:4th October 2006 - 12:00 pm
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Story ID:1441
Text:What was so distinctive about Polari, the subcultural 'tongue of queens' that characterised underground gay communities until the sixties? In the seventies, I wiled away the unhappy and overly long Muldoon era by tuning in the National Programme (as it then was), and relishing the popular vintage BBC radio comedy series, Round the Horne (1965-68). For those not in the know, it featured the urbane Kenneth Horne, around whom swirled an entourage of weird and wonderful characters. Amongst them were Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, two gay men, who portrayed Mesdames Julian and Sandy. Sandy and Jules were out of work chorus boys, who turned their hand to anyone- oops, anything. This entrepreneurial pair conversed in a queer dialect known to its users as Polari, due to feedback from Paddick and Williams. It meant that the scriptwriters, Barry Took and Marty Feldman, had great fun using code words for gay sex and activities that would have given contemporary media censorship harridan Mary Whitehouse a heart attack had she known its hidden meaning. But what is this 'tongue of queens?' Polari/palare is a mixture of several sources that include Italian, Gypsy Romany, Cockney Rhyming Slang, and Parlyaree. The latter was a folk dialect related to particular marginal occupations, such as sex workers, criminals, beggars and carnival dwellers within the United Kingdom, as well as merchant sailors. In addition to this, there's also backslang, wherein words are spelt backward. Other loanwords were obtained from the London Jewish community, US armed forces and the drug culture of the fifties and sixties. It was strongly queen-identified, which led to its downfall as the British gay community of the seventies gentrified and underwent a butch shift, which led to its eclipse. As for New Zealand, community historian Hugh Young has compiled a Polari vocabulary. Although Polari fell out of active use, Round the Horne has proven a perennial radio comedy favourite, and its evergreen dulcet tones and double entendres have led to academic interest in the vanished gay dialect. And in New Zealand? I had a look in the National Bibliographic Database, but there was little about whether or not our own communities used Polari during the same period, the fifties and sixties. Some Polari words and their meanings: Baloni - Rubbish Basket - The bulge of a man's genitals through his clothes Bevvy - Alcoholic drink Bitch - Effeminate or passive gay man Bijou - Small/little Blag - Pick up Cottage - Public toilet Mince - Walk (affectedly) Naff - Awful, dull, hetero Ogle - Look at, admire Slap - Make-up Tootsie Trade - Sex between two passive gay men Trade - Sex/Sex partner Troll - To walk around looking for ‘trade' Zhoosh - Re-style hair, tart-up Recommended: Paul Baker: Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang: London: Continuum: 2002. Paul Baker: Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men: London: Routledge: 2002.     Craig Young - 4th October 2006
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