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From Old French gai, of uncertain origin. Possibly from [[w:Template:lang:la language|Template:lang:la]][[Category:Template:lang:la derivations]] gaudium ‘joy’. (Friedrich Christian Diez has suggested that it comes from Middle High German. The sense of "homosexual" is said by some to have come from an Arabic word via French; it is also said to come from the word's older sense of "dissolute".) The sense of ‘upright’, used in reference to a dog’s tail, probably derives from the ‘happy’ sense of the word.



gay (comparative er, superlative more)




  1. (dated) Happy, joyful, and lively.
    • 1810: Samuel Johnson, The Life of Thomas Yalden." The Works of the English Poets from Chaucer to Cowper; including the Series Edited with Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, by Dr. Samuel Johnson: and the Most Approved Translations, Alexander Chalmers, ed; 21 volumes, London, C. Wittingham, 1810
      Never was there a more copious fancy or greater reach of wit than what appears in Dr. Donne; nothing can be more gallant or genteel than the poems of Mr. Waller; nothing more gay or sprightly than those of sir John Suckling; and nothing fuller of variety and learning than Mr. Cowley’s.
  2. (dated) Festive, bright, or colourful.
    Don we now our gay apparel — (Deck the Halls [1])
    Pennsylvania Dutch include the plain folk and the gay folk.
  3. Homosexual.
  4. (colloquial) Characteristic of homosexual appearance or behavior (often in a stereotypical sense).
    • 2005: Jason Christopher Hartley, Just Another Soldier: a year on the ground in Iraq
      This incident has become a source of much discussion, and the jury is still out on who is more gay: the guy who touched a dick or the guy who let a guy touch his dick. One could write volumes about the homophobically homoerotic undercurrents in the infantry.
  5. Feminine in behavior, or, non-masculine, behaving in a way associated with females.
  6. (Template loop detected: Template:context 1) Used to express dislike: Lame, uncool.
    • 2000, Nancy Updike, That's So Gay, Salon
      [Y]ou or someone you know has declared something gay in the last week. Not gay as in homosexual, but gay in that grade-school "That is so gay!" way, i.e. lame, wrongheaded, queer in the original sense. This is happening all around you. That woman’s hairdo? Gay. That book jacket? Gay. The fact that Dick and Lynne Cheney won’t talk about their lesbian daughter? Gay gay gay.
    This game is gay, let’s play a different one. = I dislike this game, let’s play a different one.
  7. (Template loop detected: Template:context 1) Upright or curved over the back.
    • 1997: Michael DeVine, Border Collies
      While the dog in concentrating at a given task, the tail is carried low and used for balance. In excitement it may rise level with the back. A “gay” tail is a fault.
    • 2000: David Leavitt, Martin Bauman; or, a Sure Thing
      By now Nora had left my side and was grappling with Maisie, trying to hold her still long enough to examine her bit. “You haven’t trained her well,” she muttered to Eli. “Oh, she’s got a gay tail!” Eli laughed. “A gay tail? What does that mean?” “It curls upward.” Nona let Maisie go. “Still, you never intended her to be a show dog,” she added. brushing off her skirt as she made for the house.

Usage notes

  • Gay is almost exclusively used today in the sense of homosexual and the related senses. The earlier uses of festive, colorful and bright can still be found, but have fallen out of fashion and are liable to be misunderstood, though if used in a way that suggests that a fashion is common among homosexuals, the two meanings do not necessarily contradict.
  • Gay is preferred to homosexual by many gay (homosexual) people as their own term for themselves, claiming that homosexual is dated and evokes a time when homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the mental health community.
  • Using gay to mean "lame, uncool" may be considered offensive.


  • (lame, uncool:) ghey


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Derived terms




gay ({{{1}}})
  1. (especially Template loop detected: Template:context 1) a homosexual, especially a male homosexual; see also lesbian.

Usage notes

  • According to one source, "gay may be regarded as offensive when used as a noun to refer to particular individuals."[2]



Related terms

Dictionary notes

  • MSN Encarta Dictionary lists 5 adjective senses, marking "merry", "bright", "carefree", and "debauched" as dated, leaving only "homosexual" unmarked.




  1. gay, homosexual



  1. a homosexual person

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