Tuesday, May 7, 2013

obscure words part 4

Although information about LGBT people in the nineteenth century is scanty there were words used to identify us. They were not flattering words, especially during the first half, but at least they denoted some sort of existence. One word I almost included in yesterdays post on words still used today but with different meanings was the word gay. Gay was a common word in the nineteenth century but it meant happy, cheerful or in good spirits. It had nothing to do with a person's sexuality. That usage did not become commonplace until the 1970's, although people did use it alittle before that.
    In the nineteenth century people we now call gay were called sodomite[s] and it was not used in a polite sense. There was no politically correct way to describe a gay person. Homosexuality was a perversion and or a sickness-period! It was also a crime punishable by death. So, if you wanted to take a trick home you would have needed to be extra careful because it could have resulted in a treat at the gallows!
    Everyone in the nineteenth century was not hostile to gay people, however. In 1864 the first ''polite'' word to identify gay people was coined by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. The word was uranian and in 1869 the word homosexual was coined by Karoly Maria Kertbeny. Homosexual was more of a clinical term used to denote a type of condition, although it was not necessarily mean either.
    Other nineteenth century words used for gay people or rather effeminate males were nancy/nancy-boy and, later in the century, mary. 
    The word I find most interesting and obscure is uranian. It has practically vanished. I think it's hay day, if a word can have such a thing, was around the turn of the century. It may have morphed into the now obscure homophile used in the 1950's.

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