Friday July 20, 2007

Gay is a Verb

Geoff Pullum (after dropping the bombshell that he's moving to Edinburgh) recently wrote about the mayor of West Sacramento's announcement that he "want[s] to start thinking of gay as a verb and not just a noun".  Pullum, himself no slouch in the grammar department, reacts by pointing out:

The linguistic fact, by the way, is that gay is primarily an adjective, though just like the adjective homosexual it has a secondary use as a count noun referring to a person who has the property in question.  If the mayor wants to start thinking of gay as a verb, is it transitive  ("I gayed him")?  Or intransitive ("How often do you gay")?  What meaning does he think of it as having?   When someone gays, what is it that he is doing?  What is gaying?  (Oops, I used a gerund.)

I can, however, pace Pullum, think of at least one usage of gay as a verb.

Consider this example, which occurs in the sketch "Gay Son" from HBO's "Mr. Show with Bob and David" (warning: NSFW and generally offensive to the offendable):

The utterance in question occurs at 1:46, and contains a phrasal verb that we might define as:

gay up (v.t.)  To cause, though methods or techniques that are perhaps better left unspecified, to become homosexual.

[Aside: Ah, it's nice to be posting regularly again, even if it's just scraps from Language Log's table.]

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The "up" portion seems to be productive -- e.g. "to man up," as in to become more masculine. Aon't hink that makes "man" a verb, tho, as per Pullum. It's more like there's this one construction that can take a variety of terms, verb or otherwise, and convey augmentation thereof. Perhaps "to [adj|noun] up" meaning "to make more [adj|noun]-y":

to light up
to green up

We might could home in on it by thinking about what can definitely not be used in that construction. For example, "to woman up" might not work, but maybe "to fem up" does. How come? I wonder.

Anyways, have a look:

Posted by: mike at Jul 22, 2007 7:24:02 PM

Yeah, I've heard it used as a phrasal verb with "up" a lot, too. However, I don't see why he should be so surprised - hasn't he ever heard "queer" used as a transitive verb? As in queering the media, queering the city, queering the text...queering the whatever. I guess the dictionary does actually list queer as a verb, but the mayor might be analogizing. He might also be reading about performativity lately or something, like he's going to start thinking about doing gay rather than being gay. Or being a gay, if he really meant that it was a noun (rather than an adjective).

Posted by: polyglot conspiracy at Jul 22, 2007 8:06:46 PM

From the Buffy season 7 episode "First Date":
Xander: Another demon woman was attracted to me. I'm going gay. I've decided I'm turning gay. Willow, gay me up. Come on, lets gay.
Willow: What?
Xander: You heard me. Just tell me what to do. I'm mentally undressing Scott Bakula right now. That's a start, isn't it?
Andrew (wistfully): Captain Archer...
Xander: Come on, let's get this gay show on the gay road. Help me out here.
Buffy: What if you just start attracting male demons?
Dawn: Clem always liked you.

Posted by: Russell Borogove at Jul 25, 2007 11:13:28 AM

Related: to sex up, to make sexier, to enhance the appeal of smth. v.

Posted by: David Conrad at Jul 25, 2007 7:49:26 PM

Gay, gay is a verb
Gay is a doing word

Posted by: AJ at Jul 26, 2007 7:39:42 AM

If "gay" can be used as a verb in the intransistive sense then that leads to some fun lexical ambiguities.
"Do gay gay gays gay gay gay gays gaily?"

Replace with synonyms.
"Do happy, homosexual queers gay [other] happy, homosexual queers gleefully?"

Posted by: Matt Quan at Aug 31, 2010 7:33:14 PM