Polari: A Gay Glossary from the Roaring Twenties

A gay “underworld” language was spoken for hundreds of years, right under the nose of straight society.

The Man in Romance

Let me preface my remarks about a “gay language” by introducing a series of novels I’ve written, The Gaslight Mysteries…Gay retro with a twist. These books follow the escapades of a gay man, Michael McCree, and his reluctant partner Simon Hart. The two men, private investigators in 1923-1924 Ireland, look into some very private affairs—yet none more private than their own.

man w pipe copy A vintage photo showing two 20s men relaxing in the privacy of their home, or their flat. Gotta love that pipe!

In each of the novels, I have used a patois commonly spoken and understood by homosexuals at the time, the decade of the “Roaring Twenties,” and some of the words, mostly from Italy, were common among them even a few hundred years before that. To me, the most interesting and even startling fact is that many of the words are in common usage today—by gays and straights alike—even if…

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