Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Polari: The Vanishing Gay Dialect


The persecution of gays in the first half of the twentieth century was so severe that gay people developed their own way of talking, a kind of secret code that amounted to an English dialect, which is known as Polari (from the Italian 'parlare' to talk). Polari declined in usage in the early 1960s, mainly due to the decriminalization and relative acceptance of homosexuality in the United Kingdom. As gays attain greater acceptance, the need for a gay subculture and language diminishes. It's an unfortunate, but long-awaited trade-off for freedom.

Putting on the Dish is video short by London filmmakers Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston, which shows two gay men having a conversation on a park bench, entirely in Polari. First, watch the film to see how much you understand. Then look at the translation below. I understood about 25 percent of what was happening, primarily from context.


Translation by Amelia Bee, YouTube Commentator.

Two gay men are on a bench. One comments that he doesn't like the book The Clockwork Orange. Using coded language they check to see that one another is gay before letting their guard down and speaking frankly, ogling other men as they pass by, etc. They gossip about a promiscuous mutual acquaintance that got thrown in prison after getting caught having sex with men. The one on the left then laments that he nearly got locked up himself once, after the cops came knocking right as he finished going down on a guy, but narrowly escaped by telling them there was a “poof” inside and ran as they arrested his lover. The one on the right is rightfully disgusted by this revelation and


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