Polari (also seen as 'Palare') is a
gay slang language, which has now almost died out. It was more common
in the 1960's when gays had more need of a private slang. When I started
to research Polari, it was difficult to find any written material
about Polari as what little used to exist was out of print. However,
in the last few years, more and more people have been finding out
about it, and several web sites and magazine articles have been written.
Polari featured heavily in the "Julian
and Sandy" sketches on the BBC radio program "Round the
Horne" in the late 60s, and this is how a lot of people first
heard of Polari. A few words like 'bona' can still be seen in gay
publications, used for camp effect. There are even hairdressers in
London and Brighton called "Bona Riah".
Polari itself was never clearly defined:
an ever-changing collection of slang from various sources including
Italian, English (backwards slang, rhyming slang), circus slang, canal-speak,
Yiddish and Gypsy languages. It is impossible to tell which slang
words are real Polari.
In London, there was a West End dialect,
based on theatre-speak, which was posher than the East End dialect,
based on canal/boat-speak.
Here is a list of words I have put
together from various sources. The core of the words are hopefully
"authentic" Polari, but some will be just "any old"
slang. Additions welcome.
ajax nearby (from adjacent?)
basket the bulge of male genitals through clothes
butch masculine; masculine lesbian
camp effeminate (origin: KAMP = Known As Male Prostitute)
carsey toilet, also spelt khazi
chicken young boy
charpering omi policeman
cod naff, vile
cottage public loo (particularly with reference to cottaging)
cottaging having or looking for sex in a cottage
dish an attractive male; buttocks
dolly pretty, nice, pleasant
drag clothes, esp. women's clothes
ecaf face (backslang)
eek face (abbreviation of ecaf)
jarry food, also mangarie
khazi toilet, also spelt carsey
latty room, house or flat
lilly police (Lilly Law)
mangarie food, also jarry
meese plain, ugly (from Yiddish)
meshigener nutty, crazy, mental
mince walk (affectedly)
naff bad, drab (from Not Available For Fucking)
nanti not, no
national handbag dole
nishta nothing, no
omi-polone effeminate man, or homosexual
palare pipe telephone
palliass back (as in cpart of body)
plate feet; to fellate
polari chat, talk
riah shusher hairdresser
scarper to run off (from Italian scappare, to escape)
shush steal (from client)
shush bag holdall
thews = thighs
troll to walk about (esp. looking for trade)
Related web links
Most useful sites
entry for Polari
bona to vada your eek!
A detailed account of the origins of Polari, with a glossary and references.
Words from Lingua Franca
Baker's Polari research
Polari - a Cinderella among
The Fantabulosa OmiPalone's
page - defines a few Polari words
Williams Appreciation Society
"The Queens' Vernacular, A Gay Lexicon" by Bruce Rodgers,
(Straight Arrow books 1972, ISBN 0 87932 026 5)
"Gay talk, a (sometimes outrageous) dictionary of gay slang"
by Bruce Rodgers, (Paragon 1979, ISBN 0 399 50392 7)
A detailed dictionary of gay slang from all over the world, which
describes the origins of words, but doesn't mention Polari much.
"Polari: The Lost Language of
Gay Men, London, Routledge" by Baker, J. P., (Routledge 2002)
"Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of
Polari and Gay Slang" by Baker, J. P., (2002)
"Hello Sailor! Seafaring Life
for Gay Men 1945-1990." by Baker, J. P. and Stanley, J., (2002)
"A Dictionary of Slang"
by Eric Partridge, published by Routledge & Kegan Paul
Has an entry on Parlyaree, describing its origins.
"Broadcasting it : an encyclopaedia
of homosexuality in film, radio and TV in the UK, 1923-1993"
by Keith Howes (Cassell lesbian and gay studies 1993, ISBN 0 304 32702
"The Margins of the City: Gay
Men's Urban Lives", ed. by Stephen Whittle, Ashgate Publishing
(1994, ISBN 1-85742-202-3) Contains "Gayspeak, the Linguistic
Fringe: Bona Polari, Camp, Queerspeak and Beyond" by Leslie J
Cox & Richard J Fay (pp103-127)
"Language in the British Isles"
ed. by Peter Trudgill, Cambridge UP (1984) Contains "Shelta and
Polari" by Ian Hancock (pp 384-403)
"The Homosexual Society"
by R Hauser, published by The Bodley Head (1962)
Has a glossary of about 60 entries of "The private language of
a minority - the homosexual society"
"The Bona Book of Julian and
Sandy" by Barry Took and Marty Feldman (Robson 1976)
"Round The Horne - The complete
and utter history" by Barry Took (Boxtree 1998, ISBN 0 7522 2111
"Impertinent Decorum: Gay Theatrical
Manoeuvres" by Ian Lucas (Cassell 1994, ISBN 0304327972)
"A Queer Companion" edited
by M.J.Ellison and Charles T. Fosberry (Abson Books 1996, ISBN 0 902920
"Parallel Lives" autobiography
by Peter Burton (GMP 1985, ISBN 0907040659)
"The Kenneth Williams Diaries"
edited by Russell Davies (Harper Collins 1993, ISBN 0 00 638090 5)
"Jeffrey" magazine, issue
2, October 1972
A glossary of "Polari, The real Queens' English", about
"Gayspeak" by Mary McIntosh,
in "Lunch" issue 16, January 1973
Traces the origins of Polari in circus performers' language. (I haven't
seen this - could anyone do me a photocopy?)
"The Color Of His Eyes"
by Ian Lucas, in "Queerly Phrased" edited by Kira Hall &
Anna Livia (OUP 1997)
Traces the origins of Polari in circus performers' language.
Films, TV programmes and songs which
include some Polari
"BBC Radio Collection: Julian & Sandy" double cassette
(BBC 1992, ISBN 0-563-40626-7)
Please use this address to link to
this page: http://www.chris-d.net/polari/
© Chris Denning, last update 26 June 2007