Teenagers nationwide (and Vince Vaughan) pepper their conversations with “that’s so gay,” much to the consternation of those of us that would rather not propagate the equation of “gay” with “sucky.” Although “gay” might be more damaging in the long run, “fag” and “faggot” are the vitriolic versions of the orientation epithets. Much like “pussy,” “gay” and “fag” are leveled at straight men to question their virility. Instead of jeopardizing the manliness of the accused, these insults only cast suspicion on the intelligence of the speaker.
Etymology & History: The origins of the word are mysteriously unknown, partially due to etymological studies’ refusal to investigate deviant concepts until relatively recently. The transition from “bundle of sticks” to “homosexual” is unknown, but theories abound. Some suggest that the arrival of the Yiddish word “fegele” (meaning “gay” or “little bird”) may have helped the evolution along. The first printed reference linking “fag” with “homosexual” was in a 1914 dictionary of slang. There has been some effort by gay communities to reclaim “fag”: for example, Will of Will and Grace referring to Jack as the “Notorious F.A.G.”
Fags in the News: A lot of really amazing, accomplished gay men have suffered the “fag” epithet (if not worse) for decades. In 1995, House Majority Leader Dick Armey referred to gay Congressman Barney Frank as “Barney Fag.” When Armey claimed it was a slip of the tongue, Frank responded doubtfully, “I turned to my own expert, my mother, who reports that in 59 years of marriage, no one ever introduced her as Elsie Fag.” In 2006, actor Isaiah Washington reportedly lost his spot on Grey’s Anatomy after calling co-star T.R. Knight a faggot. Straight men aren’t immune from sexual-orientation harassment either: as late as 2006, Ann Coulter called Al Gore a “total fag” on MSNBC. NFL player Scott Fujita was called a fag for his vocal support of gay marriage.
Fags on Screen: Sal Romano (Mad Men), Chris Keller (Oz), Omar Little (The Wire),
Famous Fag Quotes:
“The condition that is now called gay was then called queer. The operative word was faggot and, later, pussy, but those epithets really had nothing to do with the question of sexual preference: You were being told simply that you had no balls.” (James Baldwin)
“You’re a hell of a good guy, and I’m fonder of you than anybody on earth. I couldn’t tell you that in New York. It’d mean I was a faggot.” (Bill Gorton, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises)
“I never said a guy who wears glasses is a queer. A guy who wears glasses is a four-eyes; a guy who’s a fag is a queer.” (Archie Bunker, All in the Family)
Synonyms: Queer, Sissy, Fairy