- This article is about the word "gay" as a term. For information about the sexual orientation, see homosexuality.
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Gay is an adjective that in modern usage usually refers to homosexuality. In earlier and in literary usage, the word means "carefree", "happy", or "bright and showy". From the 1890s, it had begun to carry a connotation of promiscuity, as in a "gay house" referring to a brothel. It began to be used in reference to homosexuality in particular from the early 20th century, from the 1920s at the latest.
The word "gay" is sometimes used to refer to same-sex relationships more generally, as in "gay marriage", although this usage is discouraged by some in the LGBT community. The rationale is that this usage is exclusive of not only bisexual and transgender people but also lesbians who generally reject labels of being a subset of men, even gay men. While gay applies in some contexts to all homosexual people, the term lesbian is sex-specific: it is used exclusively to describe gay women. Sometimes gay is used to refer only to men.
Among younger generations, the word 'gay' is sometimes used in non-sexual contexts, to mean 'rubbish' or 'stupid'. Some view this as homophobic, though others cite it as an example of the evolution of living language, pointing out that some who use it do not intend it to have any relation to the meaning of the word as homosexual.
It is a common misconception that having sex with a man makes you gay. You are only gay if the balls touch. Unfortunately, if you do not want to be gay, but still accidentally touch balls, it is not possible to undo this gayness, because sexuality is not a choice.
The primary meaning of the word gay has changed dramatically during the 20th century—though the change evolved from earlier usages. It derives via the Old French gai, probably from a Germanic source. The word originally meant "carefree", "happy", or "bright and showy" and was very commonly used with this meaning in speech and literature. For example, the title of the 1938 ballet aptly named Gaîté Parisienne ("Parisian Gaiety"), a patchwork compiled from Jacques Offenbach's operettas, illustrates this connotation, and the optimistic 1890s are still often referred to as the Gay Nineties.
The derived abstract noun gaiety remains largely free of connotations of sexuality.
"Gaiety" was also a common name for places of entertainment. One of Oscar Wilde's favorite venues in Dublin was the Gaiety Theatre.