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Gay slang Polari on list of endangered languages

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  1. I am getting on a bit now (70) and I remember the Polari very well. However, since I am not a great believer in propping up dead or dying languages of any sort (including Welsh, Cornish etc., it would be hypocritical of me to mourn the passing of Polari. It served its purpose but happily, it is no longer necessary.

  2. The most prolific and publicly available way in which Polari has survived is in a simplified form used by the gay characters Julian and Sandy (Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams) in Round the Horne, the comedy variety sketch series broadcast on BBC Radio from 1965 to 1968 (and thankfully constantly repeated on BBC Radio 7,

    When homosexuality was still punished by a jail sentence in Britain the two characters (and to a lesser degree, their ‘ancestors’ Rodney and Charles in Beyond Our Ken) made lewd, funny, camp gay characters – who weren’t the butt of gay jokes and in fact always had the upper hand – a regular feature, spouting Polari all over the place. It was my introduction to Polari and the contribution to its prolificness today is invaluable – as ‘native’ speakers, Williams and Paddick would ad lib all the time and insert phrases the writers had never even heard of, such as Williams’ incredible “lay your luppers on the strillers bona” – to mean “play the piano”.

    The resurrection of Polari is overdue. Long may your lallies troll your dolly eek and bod to the bona heaven of zhooshy omi-palones everywhere. May your riah be fantabulosa and your ogles vada many years ahead.

  3. Ellen Brenner 10 Dec 2010, 8:58am

    I think this must be the same slang that Morrissey is singing about in “Piccadilly Palare” — “So Bona to Vada. OH YOU, Your lovely eek and Your lovely riah” … Glad its existence has been recorded for posterity. It’s an important part of our history.

  4. Will - Dublin 10 Dec 2010, 9:12am

    While its great this is being preserved in record, I don’t see how Polari is a language like Latin or the Gaelic languages, isn’t it more like excessive slang than a language?

  5. Will – exactly. It is less a language than a highly specialised dialect of English. The basic vocabulary, grammar and syntax are actually English with key words (usually nouns and adjectives, with a smaller inventory of verbs) in the dialect. But it is a fascinating example of a protective code, like the ‘thieves’ cant’ of the 18th century, and worth historical study, if not preservation as a living communicative medium.

  6. martyn notman 10 Dec 2010, 11:31am

    Last time i heard it anywhere was the old Hollywood Showbar in Manchester..(and yes i know that ages me!) was fun but i get the impression the chief use of there was to slag people off without them knowing. Camp culture is much derided now, but its an important part of gay heritage and i wouldnt like to see it die entirely…

  7. Small correction Welsh never died and is growing in numbers of speakers. Of the minority languages in the UK its doing rather well.

  8. I go with Pete on this one. I find Polari fascinating on the one hand, but today it is outmoded and unnecessary. Nevertheless, it should be still preserved both as a cultural record, and also as an indicator that people had to go to such lengths to avoid being recognised as a homosexual.

  9. Welsh is an endangered language? Huh. Learn something new every day.

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