Friday, February 09, 2007

Faggots swimming in gravy

"It's all about having a laugh," says Peter Towler of Mad O’Rourke’s Pie Factory in Tipton, West Midlands. So why aren't gay rights activists laughing? Well, it might have something to do with the so-called Michael Barrymore pie on offer at the shop, which according to the menu contains "faggots swimming in gravy", a reference to the dead man floating in Michael Barrymore's swimming pool presumably. The story appeared earlier this week in The Sun.

For those of you under 25 and from the south of England, the original food-based definition of faggots might need explaining - meatballs, basically - and that's because the pejorative use of the term to refer to gay men has pretty much taken over in younger generations' usage. But what is a faggot and how did the word come to be?

According to Michael Quinion's World Wide Words site, the term used to mean "a bundle of sticks" (strangely, the same origin of the word "fascist", I think) and then came to be applied to women, in much the same way as the word "baggage" was applied to women: in other words they were property, owned by men and probably - like baggage - a bit of a burden. So, having made the journey from sticks to women, like so many other words it started to be applied as a term of abuse for men who exhibited overly feminine characteristics, including gay men.

According to Quinion the use of it as a term to describe women remained until relatively recently, the influence of American English and the widespread use of it as a term for men gradually pushing it aside until it crept into relatively general usage.

So general in fact, that Rio Ferdinand let the word slip out on Radio 1 last year before apologising and claiming he wasn't homophobic. Yeah, right...

As a derogatory term, it's up there with some of the extreme racist words that featured in The Sun article last month, but it seems like there's more of a fuss when racist language is used maybe because there's wider antipathy towards gay people than there is towards ethnic minorities. So, while Rio Ferdinand is happy to sign his name to any anti-racist campaign, he might be less likely to support an anti-homophobia in football campaign.

But it's not all bad news; the word appears in one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time, The Pogues' and Kirsty Maccoll's "Fairytale of New York" - "You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot, Merry Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last". Quality...

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ENA1 - Language & Representation

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