MECHANISMS OF WORD FORMATION
The concluding main section examines the major linguistic mechanisms of word formation--that is to say, those that are relevant to this study.
1. Learned binary compounds tend to be assembled from Greek and Latin roots
(stratosphere, automobile), though the resulting words do not occur in the classical forms of those language. These compounds are neo-Greek, neo-Latin, or a mixture of the two. Technically there are two types: 1) the first element modifies second (the procedure linguists term tatpurusha, after a classic Sanskrit analysis: homosexual
); 2) the two are linguistically equal (sadomasochism
). Once the term achieves currency, the first part tends to become detachable, yielding new binary compounds: homophobia
. These forms, which behave like prefixes, rely on an antecedent clipping (see below).
2. Contagious words and formative elements may come into play. For example,
, milksop, engenders maricón
, then mariposa
and so forth. In this instance the first two syllables form a core, attracting other words based on identity of sound. In this way, even “innocent” words, like marinero
, sailor, become infected. In French pédé
(a pedal, as on a bicycle), as well as pédoque
More informal links exist. Etymologically, there is no connection between fag and “fagged out.” Still, many associate the first world with some sort of failure of energy or nerve. This example illustrates the principle of connotation, as distinct from denotation.
Some variations of this kind have a humorous or whimsical air. In a traditional witticism, thespian
is substituted for lesbian, especially if the person is a performer or dramatic type (typically with a special intonation or with raised eyebrows). For men in quest of a sexual partner Mr. Right
is amended to Mr. Right Now
3. Suffixes and prefixes are important. The most common suffixes of agency are
–ite and –ist. Sodomita
goes back the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The ending of hermaphrodite
is not a suffix, but stems from the goddess Aphrodite. Modern coinages are calamite
. In recent times the –ist suffix has been particularly productive. Note sadist
, and rapist
. As with the pair racist/racism and many others, these tend to go with suffixes in –ism, characterizing the condition: sadism
(but not sexologism or rapism). The writer Gore Vidal has sought to promote the term homosexualist
, someone who is (in his judgment) excessively preoccupied with his or her gay identity--a “professional homosexual” in short. This neologism has not met general acceptance. However, gay radicals have succeeded in giving some currency to heterosexism
, undue preference for ideas and behavioral patterns associated with heterosexuality (a complex sometimes termed heteronormativity). Linguistically, the word heterosexism is a modification of sexism.
A Latin suffix is –ia, generally shortened to –y in English (sodomia/sodomy
). A few, such as algolagnia
, keep the Latin ending. Note buggery
which, however, stems from French bougrerie.
The suffix –ette, which combines feminization with diminution, is nowadays avoided as tending to belittle women (majorette, usherette). It has not had much homosexual usage, but note the Cockettes, a seventies drag musical group. In some Romance languages it is easy to change the masculine ending –o into an -a (as zapatero, a shoemaker, becomes zapatera) or simply to change the article into the feminine form: la (e. g., la general). In English the word queen
has virtually become a suffix—drag queen
, opera queen
The expressive prefix shm- derives from shmuck, a Yiddish word for penis. Despite this origin, most examples do not seem to be sexual, though Oedipus-shmoedipus comes close. As this example shows, the prefix is typically employed in reduplication.
Compared to suffixes, prefixes are much less common in gay usage. Someone who shows no erotic response is asexual
(with the privative prefix a-). A trannie
contemplating a sex change is termed a pre-op
; once the surgery is completed, one is a post-op
. Nowadays there are postmodern gays
, or PoMo homos (a somewhat rarified academic usage). In compounds the word cock functions as a prefix (cock cheese
4. Patterned forms occur when new terms are modeled on older expressions. The original form provides a kind of blueprint for new ones. Thus racism has engendered sexism and ageism. Call girl easily leant itself to imitation in call boy
. Black power suggested gay power
. The word drag queen
is an old standby. Recently, it has given rise to its complement, drag king
, usually a "kick-ass" woman entertainer or exhibitionist of some sort who has adopted male dress and mannerisms.
In the clinical sense psychiatrists have identified a number of phobias, from acrophobia to zoophobia. These conditions evince an actual fear or flight from specific situations or agents. Today the -phobia suffix is proliferating outside its original bounds, identifying conditions that are not phobias according to a strict definition of the term, e.g. decidophobia and Islamophobia, alongside homophobia
. The opposite state ends in -phile (pedophile
). Alcoholic has engendered workaholic and chocoholic
(replacing the older dinge queen
), rightly regarded as racist. Attacks on South Asian ethnic groups in England produced the expression “Paki bashing,” which in turn yielded gay bashing
(found in the US also). This category overlaps with the previous one, as is evident in the forms combining with queen.
5. As in other spheres of language, diminutives may signal affection or
disparagement, sometimes both. Note trannie
(with the Yiddish diminutive suffix –le). When applied to an adult, gay boy
6. Rhyming pairs are catchy, so that the device helps one to remember the expression. This practice is well-attested in the general vocabulary: mumbo jumbo, hanky panky, pussy wussy (yielding wuss). Starting in the mid-twentieth century, the device became prominent in journalistic usage (e.g. boob tube, brain drain, nitty-gritty, and the recent shock jock). These pairs are not exclusive to English. Note French pèle-mèle and pique-nique (borrowed into English as picnic in 1826), and Latin nolens volens (= willy nilly).
Sexual examples in English include gang bang
, no-tell hotel
, teeny weeny
(man with a small penis), troll patrol
, fag hag
, boy toy
(US) or toy boy
(UK), and tag fag
(UK; one who favors designer clothing). For some years after Stonewall a gay periodical appeared in Boston known as Fag Rag
. Kosher nosher
(a gay man who prefers Jewish partners) does not quite rhyme, but is close. Sometimes the rhyming constituents are separated by another word, as in beat the meat
, gay for pay
, girth and mirth
, chicks with dicks
, dykes on bikes
. A special aspect is hidden rhymes, as found in Cockney slang; note ginger beer
(“queer” understood), which is sometimes simply ginger
, as well as iron hoof
(poof). The rarer device of assonance occurs where there is a similarity of sound without a full rhyme, e.g. butt fuck
(in both of which the short ‘u’ sound recurs).
7. Alliteration also serves as a mnemonic, as seen in such common expressions as
Nervous Nelly, pencil pusher. Note the following: gay guy
, bum boy
, pink pound
(UK), pink pistols
(a gay self-defense group). The expression gay as a goose
probably survives mainly because of its alliteration. Still, there may be something to the avian association, for the word gunsel
stems from German/Yiddish “little goose.” Zoologists have recently documented same-sex behavior among geese.
8. Onomatopoeia occurs when a word imitates a natural sound. Examples are buzz,
hiss, purr, kerplunk, and bang-bang. Surprisingly this principle does not seem to be very productive in the sexual realm. Banging
is sometimes used for sexual congress. Another example is jizz
for semen. British poof
(with its variant poofter
) may have originated as a kind of onomatopoeia, though this is disputed.
9. Economy of effort is a frequent motivator in linguistic change. Clipping or truncation is generally favored because of the economy factor. In clippings linguists distinguish between apheresis and apocape. Apheresis occurs when a portion of the beginning of a word is deleted, as seen in cute for acute and bus for omnibus. In apocape it is the latter part that disappears: telly for television, gym for gymnasium. In some cases the original has been completely forgotten, as with cinema (which derives from cinematograph). Examples in our sphere include homo, hetero
, and pedo
(for pedophile). Once these truncated forms have become established, they may take on an independent life, recombining and giving rise to new binary forms: homophobia
. This type of clipping is less common in other languages, but German has Homo
, French pédé
, Italian effe
(effeminato) and omo
; Spanish mari
(from marica) and lesbi
(lesbiana). Not infrequently the clipping adds a note of disparagement, as in the ordinary use of homo, or the political expression women’s lib. The clipping of faggot to fag
has facilitated associations (not original) with the idea of being “fagged out”; with fag, a younger boy who serves as a menial in an English public school; and fag, British slang for a cigarette. Writers of newspaper headlines find such clippings handy (hence the word perv
, spotted in a tabloid headline in New York City in August 2004). This is one aspect of a general explanation of the popularity of clipping: economy. It is takes less effort to enounce a short word than a long one. However, in the case of homolexemes there may be an additional motivation, not a pleasant one. In everyday English taboo words applying to sexual and excretory functions are usually monosyllables. “Perv” fits this pattern better than pervert, just as fag has a greater charge than faggot. Sometimes clipping combines with a diminutive, as in trannie
10. Now fashionable in English is a kind of dual clipping and fusion, producing blends. Some, such as motel (1925), have long been in use and are accepted as regular words. Others, such as Yinglish (1951; Yiddish borrowings in English, or an anglicized version of Yiddish) are less common. The practice was known in the nineteenth century, when such forms were termed portmanteau words. Yet, as the American linguist Margaret M. Bryant noted, these forms became increasingly common in the 1970s. The practice is not frequent in other European languages (but note franglais)
Blends may comprise several parts of speech: adjective + noun (gaydar
); noun + noun (motel, dykon
Typically a short first element partly devours its partner, as in chunnel, the tunnel linking Britain and France. Homolexis examples are gayby
(as in “gayby boom,” the fashion among lesbian and gay-male couples to adopt infants or have them through artificial insemination), gayborhood
(alluding to Ebonics, derived from ebony). Pansydena (Pasadena, CA) is rare
11. Increasingly important are abbreviations and acronyms. Strictly speaking, in an abbreviation the letters are pronounced individually (FBI, ERA). In acronyms the whole is pronounced as one word (NATO, FEMA). The spread of such forms reflects several factors, including the growth of government bureaucracies, need for economy, and the practice of newspaper headline writers, who need to conserve space. Advertisements also become cheaper if fewer letters are used. Euphemism may play a role, as in Snafu, “situation normal, all fucked up” (ca. 1941). There is also a kind of cutesy effect, as in BMOC, “big man on campus.”
Historically government bureaucracy led the way: BBC and RAF are well-known, even outside of Britain. In retrospect the 1920s and 1930s constituted the key transitional era. The state takeover of industry in the Soviet Union engendered many acronyms, some of which (e.g. NKVD and KGB) are known elsewhere. The New Deal in America generated its own alphabet soup. Even during the period, it was difficult to distinguish PWA from WPA. Yet the League of Nations was never referred to as the LoN or LN; now the abbreviation UN (United Nations, the successor organization) is universally recognized. In US most would readily recognize FBI, CIA, NBC, and CNN. The spread of new scientific and pharmaceutical discoveries has popularized such terms as DNA and LSD.
A vast number of abbreviations, sometimes termed hieroglyphics, have emerged from computers and their programming, most of these known only to specialists. Exceptions are PC (personal computer) and URL (uniform resource locator—essentially an Internet address). Not dissimilar are terms for devices recording sound and images: CD, VCR, and DVD. Some e-mail users have adopted cutesy abbreviations, as BTW (by the way), IMHO (in my humble opinion) and c u (“see you,” a closer). And of course there are the ubiquitous emoticons, commonly known as “smilies.”
We turn now to some sexual instances of this proliferating phenomenon. The abbreviation STD
(sexually transmitted disease) has essentially replaced the older “venereal disease.” GRID
(gay-related immune deficiency) was fortunately transitory, yielding to AIDS
. Not strictly an acronym, 69
is nonetheless a graphic shortening recognizable the world over.. As NATO became OTAN in French (according to order of the words abbreviated), so AIDS became SIDA
(as it did also in Spanish). The French term for domestic partnerships is PACS
(Pacte Civile de Solidarité).
Some abbreviations entered ordinary speech a while back. Dating to the twenties in Britain are TBH
(to be had) and NTBH
(not to be had).
Sex ads, where space is at a premium, have generated many acronyms and abbreviations. Many of these “hieroglyphs” have migrated to Internet solicitations and messages, picking up significant additions along the way. The following selective list does not seek to discriminate between print and electronic media: B&D
(bondage and discipline); S/M
(masochists—-ambiguous, perhaps deliberately so); w/e
(well endowed, well hung); Gr act
(Greek active, i.e. anal insertor); Gr pas
(Greek passive, i.e. anal receptor); Fr act
(French active, i.e. oral insertor); Fr pas
(French passive, i.e. oral receptor); CP
(corporal punishment); C/B/T/T
(cock, ball and tit torture); W/S
(water sports, i.e. urinating, etc.); J/O
(jack off, i.e. masturbation); FF
(fist fucking); Lv's
(Levi's, including denim); fone frk
(phone freak, i.e. dirty talk etc.); gdlk
(good looking, possibly godlike); LIAHO
(Let It All Hang Out); HWP (height, weight, proporns); LTR
(long-term relationship), ISO
(in search of), HIV +
contrasting with HIV -
(HIV positive and HIV negative), D/D free
(drugs and disease free); TS
(transsexual) and TV
New is PNP
(party and play), meaning that drugs will be involved in the sexual encounter. A person free of drugs and alcohol and seeking same may style himself “clean.”
There is also a good deal of gay-movement jargon: DOB
(Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian organization); GAA (Gay Activists Alliance), NGLTF
(National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), NAMBLA
(North American Man/Boy Association); l/g
(lesbian and gay), LGBTQ
(lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer), SSM
(same-sex marriage), DADT
(don’t ask, don’t tell, referring to the unfortunate policy of the DoD, the Department of Defense). Transsexuals (or those intending to be such) may use M2F
(male-to-female) and F2M
There are some special terms common among African-Americans who do not identify as gay or find it expedient to employ concealment. These include DL
(for “on the down low,” a euphemism for engaging in, or seeking same-sex activity), and MSM
(men who have sex with men). Some black gay intellectuals have adopted the self-descriptive label PoMo
(postmodern) or PoMo Homo
There are also false acronym claims. During the 1980s homophobes cynically glossed “gay” as “Got AIDS Yet?” The clothing chain The Gap is supposed to be a shortened form of “Gay and Proud.”
12. Backslang occurs when words are pronounced back to front. This is the central principle of Verlan, currently enjoying popularity in the slums of French cities, and among some “with it” types in the general French population. The Verlan word beur (from Arabe) has become almost standard French. There are relatively few gay terms, but note deup (from pédé). Polari has some back slang, e.g. Eraf, face, and riah, hair, but this practice does not seem to involve specifically gay lingo. In the US Pig Latin is somewhat similar, but for in our sphere this is probably limited to ad hoc usage: “Is she an ykday?” A similar process of back slang (vesre, from Spanish revés) occurs in Lunfardo (Argentinian slang), in Colombia, and in the Greek slang known as Podana (the reverse form of ana-poda, i.e. backwards).
13. Mincing occurs where one or more sounds are deliberately distorted, so as to make the word more acceptable in polite company. Originally this device was deployed for words otherwise judged blasphemous, as in the substitution of “darned” for damned and “gosh” for God. A more elaborate example is “What the dickens!” It was commonly believed that directly uttering the Devil’s name meant that he would appear. Eventually, the procedure extended to sexual terms, as in dork
for dick, and frig
for fuck. This device does not seem common in the homolexis; note, however, West Hollywierd. (not common). The term morphadite
(for hermaphrodite) has been documented in England as early as 1706. It probably represents an attempt by the unlearned to cope with an unfamiliar classical term, rather than a true instance of mincing.
14. Malapropisms result when a person tries to pronounce an impressive, but unfamiliar word, botching the effort by confusing it with another word, or mangling the pronunciation. One journalist wrote of a suspect who was “arraigned on a charge of statuary rape.” Another praised the service of a military officer by stating that “Admiral Rickover worked deciduously during his 54 years of naval service.” An example of mangling is a young man who spoke of being falsely accused of “granicity” (he meant grandiosity). In the sexual realm an old attestation is morphadite, noted above. Swaffunder
reflects French soixante-neuf (69). Some malapropisms are deliberate, showing a humorous intent. One example is thespian
, an arch substitute for lesbian. Another is cunning linguist
15. Supplying antonyms may lead to full-fledged binary systems. In the nineteenth century Richard von Krafft-Ebing observed that while the word Sadismus
(imported from French) described the active partner in such an interaction there was no term for the person who seeks humiliation and pain. He coined Masochismus
. K. M. Kertbeny’s invention of homosexual
was not at first accompanied by heterosexual
(he used normalsexual with that meaning), but it seemed called for-—and so it appeared, some years later.
In other contrasting pairs it is not easy to see which came first. French culture
vs. Greek culture
. They may come together as a package. But once one of the contrasting pairs is invoked the other comes to mind.
The process of invention goes on and on, as the symmetry principle fosters “completion” of one term by its counterpart. Thus call girl yields call boy
and drag queen
, drag king
. Recently, rent boy
has given rise to rent girl
, a lesbian prostitute (rare). Some expressions resist this process. Thus English law has produced gross indecency, but there is no corresponding “petty indecency.”
16. Synecdoche is a figure of speech that occurs when a part is substituted for the
whole, or the whole for a part. The first, reduction to a single part, characterizes indelicate versions of everyday language, as “tits” for a woman and “big mouth” for someone who talks too much. Sexual examples include dick
for a stupid person (possibly someone who is obsessed with penile gratification), and hole
for someone who takes it up the ass.
A related device is pseudo-speciation, which treats members of minorities as the equivalent of some nonhuman group, or something very close to this status. In times gone by it was common to refer to “the Jew” when all Jewish persons were meant. Similarly, one might refer to “the homosexual” or “the deviant,” suggesting group characteristics. Fortunately, this totalizing use of the singular is now uncommon.
17. Erasure occurs when a taboo prevents direct utterance. Historically, many have held that same-sex behavior is literally unnamable. Same-sex behavior is “the silent sin
” or the crimen nefandum
, as the medieval Latin has it. To the extent that it is permissible to refer to the matter at all, it should be in terms of some dismissive gesture, or perhaps utilizing some vague formula, as that way or one of those. In French one may speak of en être
and comme ça
. The circumlocution ces messieurs dates from the eighteenth century. With its so
, German is the most economical.
18. Some individuals who pride themselves on creative use of language seek to introduce new words made up out of whole cloth. Generally speaking, such neologisms do not fare well. An exception is grok, meaning “to perceive or understand thoroughly; to feel empathy with, and hence to enjoy or appreciate.” Introduced by the science-fiction writer Robert L. Heinlein in his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land
, this verb has gained favor among with-it young people and journalists. Less successful has been limerance
, defined by one source as “a powerful and constantly distracting obsessive infatuation.” Dorothy Tennov proposed the term in the late 1970s because of its “fitting sound.” About the same time, in 1978, the French writer Renaud Camus invented achrien
, a vaguely Greek sounding word for “gay.” Alas, the new word did not fulfill Camus’s utopian wish that it replace such existing French words as pédé, homosexual, inverti and so forth. However, it has been adopted by some student groups, such as Gage (Group Achrien des Grandes Ecoles) The word Mattachine might appear to be an invention, but the Mattachine Society, America’s first significant gay-rights group, is Harry Hay’s 1950 revival of the name of a Renaissance group, with change of meaning.
This introductory chapter has dealt with the most important general issues of method. The numbered account just preceding offers a succinct diagram of the main linguistic mechanisms governing the generation of terms.
The main portions of this study [II-VII] present the tropes and tropisms of homosexuality.