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Polari: The secret language of gay men

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“How bona to vada your dolly old eek” may sound like gibberish, but it is in fact a warm greeting often used by gay men in England between the 1930s and early 1970s. It literally means: “How good to see your lovely/pleasant face,” and is a delightful example of the secret language Polari.

Polari comes from the Italian word “pralare” meaning “to talk” and is a mixture of Lingua Franca, Yiddish, Italian, Cockney, and slang and was a common language used by circus performers, actors, sailors, criminals, and prostitutes in the UK and Ireland from the late 16th century on. In the 1930s, Polari became the secret language for gay men to gossip in public, cruise for partners and identify one another. Polari fell out of use in the late sixties, after the UK government decriminalized homosexuality in 1967. It also fell out of favor with the more politically correct gay liberationists who saw Polari as an outdated and unhelpful stratagem.
 

 
Yet, Polari persists to be used today, and for anyone who wants to zhoosh up their vocab, then have varder at this beginner’s guide to Polari:

ajax  -  nearby
alamo  -  hot for you/him
aunt nell  -  listen, hear
aunt nells  -  ears
aunt nelly fakes  -  earrings
aunt nell danglers  -  earrings
barney  -  a fight
basket  -  the bulge of male genitals through clothes
batts  -  shoes
bibi  -  bisexual
bitch  -  effeminate or passive gay man
bijou  -  small/little
blag  -  pick up
blue  -  code word for “homosexual”
bod  -  body
bona  -  good
bona nochy  -  goodnight
bonaroo  -  wonderful, excellent
bungery  -  pub
butch  -  masculine; masculine lesbian
buvare  -  a drink
cackle  -  talk/gossip
camp  -  effeminate
capello/capella  -  hat
carsey  -  toilet, also spelt khazi
carts/cartso  -  penis
cats  -  trousers
charper  -  to search
charpering omi  -  policeman
charver  -  to shag/a shag/ have sex
chicken  -  young man
clobber  -  clothes
cod  -  naff, vile
cottage  -  a public lavatory used for sexual encounters
cottaging  -  seeking or obtaining sexual encounters in public lavatories
cove  -  friend
crimper  -  hairdresser
dally  -  sweet, kind
dilly boy  -  a male prostitute
dinari   -  money
dish  -  buttocks/backside
dolly  -  pretty, nice, pleasant
dona  -  woman
dorcas  -  term of endearment, “one who cares”
drag  -  clothes, esp. women’s clothes
doss  -  bed
ecaf  -  face (backslang)
eek  -  face (abbv. of ecaf)
ends  -  hair
esong  -  nose
fantabulosa  -  fabulous/wonderful
feele/freely/filly  -  child/young
fruit  -  queen
funt  -  pound
gelt  -  money
handbag  -  money
hoofer  -  dancer
HP (homy polone)  -  effeminate gay man
jarry  -  food
jubes  -  breasts
kaffies  -  trousers
khazi  -  toilet, also spelt carsey
lacoddy  -  body
lallies  -  legs
lallie tappers  -  feet
latty/lattie  -  room, house or apartment
lills  -  hands
lilly  -  police
lyles  -  legs
lucoddy  -  body
luppers  -  fingers
mangarie  -  food, also jarry
martinis  -  hands
measures  -  money
meese  -  plain, ugly
meshigener  -  nutty, crazy, mental
metzas  -  money
mince  -  walk (affectedly)
naff  -  awful, dull, hetero
nanti  -  not, no, none
National Handbag  -  dole, welfare, government financial assistance
ogle  -  look, admire
ogles  -  eyes
oglefakes  -  glasses
omi  -  man
omi-palone  -  effeminate man, or homosexual
onk  -  nose
orbs  -  eyes
oven  -  mouth
palare pipe  -  telephone
palliass  -  back
park, parker  -  give
plate  -  feet; to fellate
palone  -  woman
palone-omi  -  lesbian
pots  -  teeth
remould  - sex change
riah/riha  -  hair
riah zhoosher  -  hairdresser
rough trade  -  a working class or blue collar sex partner or potential sex partner; a tough, thuggish or potentially violent sex partner
scarper -  to run off
schlumph  -  drink
scotch  -  leg (Scotch egg=leg)
screech  -  mouth, speak
sharpy  -  policeman (from charpering omi)
sharpy polone  -  policewoman
shush  -  steal
shush bag  -  hold-all
shyker/shyckle  -  wig
slap  -  makeup
so  -  homosexual (e.g. “Is he ‘so’?”)
stimps  -  legs
stimpcovers  -  stockings, hosiery
strides -  trousers
strillers  -  piano
switch -  wig
thews  -  thighs
tober  -  road
todd (Sloanne)  -  alone
tootsie trade  - sex between two passive homosexuals
trade  -  sex, sex-partner, potential sex-partner
troll -  to walk about (esp. looking for trade)
vada/varder  -  to see / look
vera (lynn)  -  gin
vogue  -  cigarette
vogueress  -  female smoker
willets  -  breasts
yews  -  eyes
zhoosh  -  style hair, tart up, mince
zhoosh our riah  -  style our hair
zhooshy  -  showy

 

 
For those who wish to learn more, then have varder at Paul Baker’s Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang, which should improve your cackle over a few veras down the bungery.

But Polari wasn’t always kept a secret, in the 1960s, comedy writers Marty Feldman and Barry Took subversively brought Polari into every British household with their hit BBC radio series Round the Horne. Through their characters “Julian” and “Sandy,” as played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, Feldman and Took were able to use Polari to get many an innuendo and double entendre-laden sketch past the BBC’s censors.

Here’s your host Kenneth Horne visiting Julian and Sandy’s “Bona Books”:
 

 
Mr. Horne visits Julian and Sandy’s “Bona Suits’:
 

 

 
Morrissey’s Bona Drag (“Nice outfit” in Polari) album and the single “Piccadilly Palare” (about male prostitutes working London’s Piccadilly Circus) brought Polari into the 1990s.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
What A Performance!:  A celebration of the Heroes of British Camp Comedy!

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For a generation of gay British actors and performers, camp comedy was a way to promote queer culture, through media of television and radio, into the nation’s living rooms.

Up until homosexuality was decriminalized by an act of Parliament in 1967, being gay or, admitting to homosexual acts, was a crime punishable by imprisonment or chemical castration. The latter was used as sentence on the code-breaking genius and computer pioneer, Alan Turing—which gives an idea of the brutality and bigotry of Britain pre-1967.

But through the use of camp comedy, performers such as, Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd, Charles Hawtrey, John Inman and Larry Grayson, were able to subvert the horrendous, homophobic orthodoxy of their time.

For me, each of these men were revolutionary, and together with writers like Eric Sykes, Galton and Simpson, Marty Feldman and Barry Took, they were able to subtly change the public’s attitudes to sex and sexuality.

In her Notes on ‘Camp’, Susan Sontag describes camp as a means for promoting integration:

...Camp proposes a comic vision of the world. But not a bitter or polemical comedy. If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment.

...The reason for the flourishing of the aristocratic posture among homosexuals also seems to parallel the Jewish case. For every sensibility is self-serving to the group that promotes it. Jewish liberalism is a gesture of self-legitimization. So is Camp taste, which definitely has something propagandistic about it. Needless to say, the propaganda operates in exactly the opposite direction. The Jews pinned their hopes for integrating into modern society on promoting the moral sense. Homosexuals have pinned their integration into society on promoting the aesthetic sense. Camp is a solvent of morality. It neutralizes moral indignation, sponsors playfulness.

Camp may have been a weapon for education and change, but it wasn’t the sole preserve of gay men. Comedians such as Dick Emery, presenters like Bruce Forsyth, actresses like the Late Wendy Richard and Lesley Joseph, and most importantly writers (in particular Marty Feldman and Barry Took, who created the inimitable Julian and Sandy for Round the Horne) helped promote camp comics as innuendo-laden revolutionaries.

What A Performance is a wonderful romp through the lives and careers of some of Britain’s best known and best loved Kings of Camp: Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howard, Larry Grayson, John Inman, Julian Clary, Lilly Savage and Kenny Everett. The documentary contains contributions from Matthew Kelly, Lesley Joseph, Clive James, Harry Enfield, Chris Tarrant, Jonathon Ross, Barry Took, Wendy Richard and Cleo Rocos.
 

 
With thanks to Mark Dylan Sieber
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Marty Feldman died 28 years ago today
12.02.2010
06:45 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Animation
Movies

Tags:
Richard Williams
Marty Feldman

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One of the funniest human beings to ever walk the earth Marty Feldman died 28 years ago today. He was only 49. Heart attack.

Dream sequence from the 1970 British comedy Every Home Should Have One starring Marty Feldman. Animation by Richard Williams.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment