By Jove, what a gay old time it was

gay old time

‘A gay old time’ once meant either just a light-hearted moment or a lewd adventure, depending on the circumstance. Adults used the word as code, enabling them to speak of ‘distasteful’ subjects in the presence of innocents. Old newspaper clippings demonstrate the general public understood both meanings despite the regular bleatings that gays ‘stole’ a beautiful word. 

Every so often some troglodyte raises it’s hoary head and howls to the wind over homosexuals appropriating the word.


With only half a billion plus words in the English language, they apparently feel the loss of that particular word quite keenly.

Forced to forgo happiness, they can no longer describe themselves as ‘feeling gay’.

Sadly, the victims of homosexual appropriation lead joyless lives.

However, for hundreds of years, the word worked double duty. To the innocent, it meant carefree, colourful and fun.

gay old time
I’m sorry but they don’t look gay in any sense of the word.

To the more worldly, it meant lewd — associated with sex work, either male or female. Many words in English carry more than one meaning. Ask any Australian who ever rooted for a football team.

gay old time
We felt gay with giddiness when we found this old article. However, no one in the newsroom felt tempted to take up sewing.

The double meaning was not a closely guarded secret. Newspapers regularly referred to brothels as ‘gay houses’.

In 1923 the Brisbane Truth reported on the goings-on at Trilby Turner’s ‘gay house’ in Grey Street, South Brisbane.

A gay old time at a ‘gay house’

gay old time
Trilby Turner is a great drag name. One suspects it’s not the name Trilby’s mummy and daddy called her by. The ‘trilby’ was a popular gentleman’s hat of the era and, then as now, the ability to turn a man’s head was an asset for a sex worker.
It’s not what you think! Mrs. Ramsay followed her husband when she noticed him powdering and perfuming himself before leaving the house. She discovered him sitting on the beach holding hands with another woman – a woman Mrs. Ramsay. made sure the court understood was fat. That bit seemed to really distress her. The woman was French and Mr. Ramsay explained he was getting French lessons though not why his classroom was a beach and he held hands with the teacher. (And before we read the rest of the article, we suspicious types thought this would involve Greek lessons!)

Words change over time and the word ‘gay’ changed.

In the 20th century, the lewder meaning came to describe homosexuals. They embraced it. At the same time, the more innocent meaning went out of fashion along with words like ‘jolly’ and ‘chipper’.

Some resist semantic evolution at every turn though, determined that trolls should stay under bridges and that only pneumonia should ever go viral.

The American Family Association found themselves hoist by their own petard over their refusal to accept that words change back in 2008.

The association employed a word filter on their OneNewsNow website to ensure anyone or anything ‘gay’ became ‘homosexual’.


That year, athlete Tyson Gay qualified for the Olympics, something OneNewsNow reported on.

Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has…

“It means a lot to me,” the 25-year-old Homosexual said. “I’m glad my body could do it because now I know I have it in me.”

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