A language, or slang language used within the Gay Subculture of England, of which many terms are used in modern day English.
Not really a 'language' in the sense of Italian or English are, but more of a slang or lexicon of meanings. Sort of a cipher where words have alternative meanings to them, for specific sub cultures within the English society.
No real origin is known, though it is believed to have originated in the late 19th century. Mostly taken from the Italian word 'parlare' meaning 'to talk'.
It was made popular by the BBC Radio Show, Around the Horne but fell into decline during the 60's as being part of the Gay Culture.
Primarily used in theatric surroundings, fish markets, and the Navy, it was a cover for gay men to speak, without being outed, or discovered as being Homosexual, among themselves.
A variation of Parlyaree, still well used today in various traveling road shows, and markets.
A mixture of Italian, Yiddish, and other words, that have taken on popularity off and on over the years. During the 60's it was terms used by the drug culture, and in gay subculture, renewed interest was generated by use of some words in the popular Queer Eye for Straight Guy television series.
History (Legend): In the 1970's it was frowned on, for use in the Gay Community, as it was considered to be demeaning, nothing more than gossip about others, as well as about boasting about one's sexual exploits.
It has faced a resurgence, due to the release of the old BBC Radio Show on CD, as well as by other literary works, such as the release of two books in 2002. Lost Language of Gay Men and Fantabulosa : A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang both by Paul Baker.
Fantabulosa is Polari for Fabulous, Wonderful.
In addition the song by Morrissey, Bona Drag (in Polari meaning nice outfit). Also the character 'Danny the Street' created by comic book writer Grant Morrison, for Doom Patrol.
"As feely ommes...we would zhoosh our riah, powder our eeks, climb into our bona new drag, don our batts and troll off to some bona bijou bar. In the bar we would stand around with our sisters, vada the bona cartes on the butch omme ajax who, if we fluttered our ogle riahs at him sweetly, might just troll over to offer a light for the unlit vogue clenched between our teeth." (Taken from the memoirs of renowned gay journalist Peter Burton, Parallel Lives)
(Translation: "As young men...we would style our hair, powder our faces, climb into our fabulous new clothes, don our shoes and wander/walk off to some fabulous little bar. In the bar we would stand around with our gay companions, look at the fabulous genitals on the butch man nearby who, if we fluttered our eyelashes at him sweetly, might just wander/walk over to offer a light for the unlit cigarette clenched between our teeth.")
Practice (Associated Acts): In some sense, use of Polari is like code. It is a secret meaning, that many Gays no longer understand, even though many of the words are making their way back into the common English usage.
Examples and Meanings
Naff - rotten, no good [Also used as an acronym, such as Not Available for Fucking, Normal As Fuck.]
Alamo - hot for you/him
Basket - the bulge in the crotch
Bitch - effeminate, passive male
Chicken - young male
Trade - sex, sex partner, potential sex partner,
Zhooshy - showy
Noteworthy: The main purpose of this 'slang' was for self protection. It was used in various areas of society, such as the Merchant Navy among Gay Sailors, to help keep their sexual orientation hidden from their heterosexual shipmates.
It allowed them to speak in 'code' without attracting unwanted attention.
Cottaging is one word making a comeback, given some of the recent news stories, such as the one about Senator Larry Craig in the USA.