04:46:34 pm on
Thursday 18 Jul 2024

A Gay Blade
Sjef Frenken

"Jack," I said as we sat down at our usual meeting place, "if you have any money to invest, buy Gillette."

"Why?" asked Jack, not unreasonably.

I said, "I was flipping across the TV channels last night, and I noticed that some of the men on some show had shaved their armpits. In fact, some of them didn't have any body hair showing at all."

"It's a gay thing," said Jack.

"Even more reason to buy Gillette; they're the trend-setters in the world of fashion. Next thing you know all men will be expected to remove their body hair too. Think of all the extra razors Gillette is going to sell! But I take issue with the word 'gay'."

"Why?" asked Jack, again not unreasonably.

I said "Well, as a long-time versifier, I don't like the fact that this fine word has been given a meaning that makes it virtually impossible to use nowadays in a non-sexual context, and it also renders a lot of older poetry subject to snickers. It pushes a lot of good rhymes off the table, so to speak."

"Well that's just too bad, isn't it." said Jack.

I said "You're damn right it is. Think about it! 'Gay' is the only one-syllable word in the rhyming dictionary that means happy, cheerful. I looked. There is "blithe" but who wants to use that? About the only word that rhymes with 'blithe' is 'scythe'. How many poems can you write about someone using a scythe, and being blithe?"

Jack said: "So why do you need a one-syllable word?"

I said: "Because I write verse with metre and rhyme. Sometimes you need a one-syllable word. All the other synonyms of 'happy' have at least two syllables."

"How about 'glad'?" asked Jack.

"You can't use 'glad' on its own: 'How are you' -- 'I'm glad'. Glad about what...? See. But you can use 'happy' alone.

'How are you' -- 'I'm happy.' Good for you! And think of all the one-syllable words "gay' can rhyme with: play, hay, bay, day, fey, lay, flay, gray, fray, may, neigh, pay, pray, ray, spay, sway, tray, way ... Lots to choose from."

"Well," said Jack, "as you yourself are always pointing out to me, you have to learn to live with the language as people use it, not as they should use it. You're always telling me you can't fight progress.

I said "This isn't progress; this is confusion. Instead of coming up with new words, we're loading new meanings onto old words. Besides, it puts shackles on the poetic imagination ...."

"So," said Jack, "what are you going to do about it? We don't have an Academie francaise."

"I'm looking for another word for 'gay' in the sexual sense," I said. Lesbian is a fine word for women of that persuasion, although they too use 'gay' sometimes, I gather. Besides Lesbians are named after the poetess Sappho who lived on the Greek island of Lesbos, so there is a logical connection with poetry. There is no equivalent that I know of for men.

"How about queer?" suggested Jack.

I said "Wouldn't that be considered derogatory?"

"Hell, no!" said Jack. "There was a movement in the nineties called Queer Nation by the folks who started it. There's even a TV show these days called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. So it must be OK."

"OK, 'queer' it is," I said. "But if I run into any flack, I'm blaming you. Of course, you'll also get the credit. Happy?"

"Yes," said Jack, "but not gay!"

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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