Polari: Gay Slang of the 60s

Though it sounds like a term straight out of Twilight, Polari is actually a 50 yea- old queer slang language. Used among gay men in the UK, Polari (often seen as Palare, as the word comes from the Italian “parlare,” or “to speak”) was born out of necessity; gay men in the 1960s needed a certain level of privacy, and thus a secret slang language was born. According to the few sources I was able to find, Polari is a mix of several different languages and slang dialects, including English, Italian, Yiddish, circus-slang, and Gypsy languages. Polari was made up of a small lexicon of only about 20 words, but was ever-changing and often included up to 500 words.

This website has a lot of Polari words and their modern translations, but I’ve picked out a few of my favorites to share with you here:

plate                   feet; to fellate

onk                     nose

oglefakes           glasses   (definitely going to use this one)

meshigener       nutty, crazy, mental (ah, there’s the Yiddish I recognize!)

cottaging           having or looking for sex in a cottage

cottage              public loo (particularly with reference to cottaging)

basket               the bulge of male genitals through clothes

chicken            young boy

So, MSP readers, if you catch me throwing in a few Polari words into my posts here and there, you’ll know where they come from!

About Michaela


Michaela is a recent Seven Sisters graduate with a self-designed degree in Sexuality Studies. When she's not blogging, you'll find her teaching Health and Wellness and A Cappella to high school students, helping women find properly fitting bras, and working as an editor on a documentary. She hopes to continue her education one day with a PhD in Feminist Anthropology.