Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Is your ringtone gay?

Well mine certainly is, but what about yours? Obviously I don't mean homosexual, but "lame", "crap" and "sad". According to the BBC Board of Governors, these are the modern meanings of the word "gay" alongside its other more traditional ones of "happy" and "carefree", and of course "homosexual" (which has been one of the word's other meanings for longer than many might expect).

In articles, here in The Times and here in the Daily Mail (spit), the BBC explain their position on the word "gay" and their decision that Chris Moyles' use of it to describe a ringtone was acceptable and not homophobic (compared to rapper, The Game's use of the term "faggot" to describe gay men which was labelled unacceptable and led to a ban on further interviews).

All of this raises interesting issues about language change and the processes that drive it, but also the decisions that lead to the acceptability or otherwise of particular words. It's not as if any of this is set in stone either: changes in meaning aren't decided by committees and then imposed on us, but rather certain groups of people and organisations tend to have more power to influence opinion and usage.

So, can using "gay" really not be homophobic? Or is the fact that it's now broadened to mean "rubbish", "lame" and "crap" just a symptom of a homophobic society?

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 - Language Change

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