Here’s a bit of surprising news: Cambridge researches have found that, like Latin and Esperanto before it, the gay subculture code language, Polari, is facing extinction.
Here’s another bit of surprising news: There is a gay subculture code language, and it’s called Polari. THAT. IS. COOL.
So, it’s going away, and I just found out this existed! Polari was (reportedly) invented in the 16th Century, possibly later, and was used regularly by homosexuals to hook up, identify each other, and I’m sure to some extent, feel some element of interactive comfort. It had been used predominantly by gay cultures, but it was also known to be used by (are you ready for this beautiful list?): actors, circus performers, fairground showmen, carnies, criminals, prostitutes and dope fiends. It has fairly exclusively existed in the U.K. and fell out of popular favor in 1967, following the legitimization of adult gay relationships.
It’s a combination of (are you ready for another amazing list?): Romance Italian, London slang, backslang, rhyming slang, sailor slang and thieves’ cant. Oh, did I put a period at the end of that sentence? I mean to do this: !!!!!!!!!
For a long time, the most public knowledge of Polari was that it was tied to certain aspects of Punch and Judy puppet show. But the real exposure came much later. The BBC had a 1960s radio program called “Round the Home,” which featured camp characters called Julian and Sandy, and these characters brought the secret Polari language into public view, thereby making it so not cool anymore. The early gay liberationists of the late 60′s/early 70′s viewed the Polari language as divisive, disgraceful and behind-the-times.
And so, like the One Ring, Polari passed out of all knowledge. And then regained some kitsch popularity again in the 1990′s. The great Morrissey titled one of his albums “Bona Drag,” which in Polari means “nice outfit.” Polari was also featured in the film “Velvet Goldmine,” as well as a Polari-speaking character in Grant Morrison’s graphic novel “Doom Patrol.”
Some older gays (Sir Ian) reportedly can still speak the language (Sir Ian). Cambridge hopes to set up a project that will allow the exploration and preservation of Polari, as well as other dying or dead languages.
I think we all know what needs to happen now. I must seek out Sir Ian and persuade him to pass along his knowledge of Polari to me.