Words such as “lezza”, “poof” and “queer” are socially acceptable for use by broadcasters, an Ofcom study says.
It found that other terms such as “homo” and “chick with a dick” are less well-known but are still seen as acceptable to broadcast at any time of day.
The broadcasting watchdog, which covers the whole of the UK, asked a small sample of 130 people about what language they found acceptable.
It asked participants to put 56 words into four categories of acceptability.
They rated words such as “lezza”, “poof” and “queer” as “well known and seen as socially acceptable” and said they were happy for them to be used at any time of day on television or radio.
Although such words are used affectionately by some members of the gay community – including the political use of “queer” – others find them offensive and they can be used as terms of abuse.
Other words in this category were “nutter”, “looney” and “mental”.
The study said: “Many participants saw these words as socially acceptable because they are commonly used in society and are thought to be used in a lighthearted/banter manner, without aggression or intent to offend.
“Many participants also did not think gay people would be offended by these words, and therefore thought that this made these words more acceptable than some of the other words covered in the research e.g. ‘homo’ and ‘faggot’.”
Another category was for words that were seen as less well-known but still socially acceptable – such as “homo”, “gender bender” and “chick with a dick”.
The study said: “As the phrases ‘gender-bender’ and ‘chick with a dick’ rhyme, some participants expected them to be used in comedies, in a lighthearted way, and therefore thought it was unlikely that these phrases could be seen to be offensive.”
The only well-known words for homosexuality that people thought were offensive were “faggot” and “dyke”, which were listed alongside racial terms such as “Paki” and “nigger”.
Few participants wanted to ban certain words being used altogether, and most said words such as “f**k”, motherf**ker” and c**t”could be used after the 9pm watershed.
The 130 people included 35 in minority groups, who had their own discussions.
Ofcom has been accused in the past of not cracking down on homophobic language on television and radio, while taking a strong line against racism.
Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles has repeatedly escaped censure from the watchdog despite a string of gay jibes.
Gay rights charity Stonewall, which has campaigned against homophobic language on the BBC, criticised the small sample group.
Chief executive Ben Summerskill said: “As far as we can see, this was a very limited study indeed – little more than 130 people.
“We don’t believe broadcasters or broadcasting regulators should give licence to the media to use offensive language.”
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, was also dismayed that the study found words such as “looney” were seen as acceptable.
“These sorts of words often betray fear and ignorance rather than lack of sympathy. The main lesson is that they should not be used lightly,” she said.
“On the other hand we would not like to be heavy-handed or prohibitive. If people with mental health problems want to use these terms and find the humour in them – as some do – then all well and good. But it is not for others to denigrate their experience with thoughtless words.”
An Ofcom spokesman said the research was conducted to help the watchdog stay “in tune” with public opinion but said it would not change its “robust” rules on offensive material.