Wednesday, 20 April 2011

National Gaiety


Thou seyst also, that if we make us gay...
That it is peril of oure chastitee

Said Chaucer six hundred and something years ago.

Aunt: Why are you wearing these clothes?
David: Because I just went gay, all of a sudden.

Thus the film Bringing Up Baby in 1938.

And then, quite suddenly, the word gay leapt out of the closet singing a showtune. This shift is usually dated to the beginning of the 1940s. But gay left its brothers behind. This from yesterday's Evening Standard describing some forthcoming nuptials:

...the gaiety and chutzpah will tend to be on the Middleton side.

Will it? My word! Who would have thought that our future queen was that way inclined? And the England manager too? Impossible! Not according to Sky Sports:

All hail Mr Capello then for a week in which he's been upsetting all and sundry with the gay abandon we've secretly grown to admire

Well, I'd say I'll be blowed but you might misunderstand my relationship with both Mr Capello and the Middletons. Blowed, not blown. What's peculiar here is that while the adjective gay shifted suddenly and irrevocably in meaning, the noun gaiety stayed exactly where it was, unaffected by the explosion. Nobody talks about Elton John's gaiety, and if they did we would assume that the chap was happy. Gay abandon can survive in football, of all sweaty and uncouth places, without anybody batting an eyelid. But gay? Gay is gay and bound to stay that way.

Strange how two forms of one word can split like that, but I suppose it all adds to the homosexuality of nations.

Angry gaiety

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