History Overview Cartoon from Punch magazine in illustrating the use of "gay" as a colloquial euphemism for being a prostitute. The word gay arrived in English during the 12th century from Old French gai, most likely deriving ultimately from a Germanic source. For example, the optimistic s are still often referred to as the Gay Nineties. It was apparently not until the 20th century that the word began to be used to mean specifically "homosexual", although it had earlier acquired sexual connotations.
The word may have started to acquire associations of immorality as early as the 14th century, but had certainly acquired them by the 17th. A gay woman was a prostitute , a gay man a womanizer, and a gay house a brothel. Such usage, documented as early as the s, was likely present before the 20th century,  although it was initially more commonly used to imply heterosexually unconstrained lifestyles, as in the once-common phrase " gay Lothario ",  or in the title of the book and film The Gay Falcon , which concerns a womanizing detective whose first name is "Gay".
Similarly, Fred Gilbert and G. This usage could apply to women too. The British comic strip Jane , first published in the s, described the adventures of Jane Gay. Far from implying homosexuality, it referred to her free-wheeling lifestyle with plenty of boyfriends while also punning on Lady Jane Grey.
Gertrude Stein and her Family the portrait "featured the sly repetition of the word gay, used with sexual intent for one of the first times in linguistic history," and Edmund Wilson , quoted by James Mellow in Charmed Circle agreed. Bringing Up Baby was the first film to use the word gay in apparent reference to homosexuality. When another character asks about his robe, he responds, "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!
Gross, executive secretary for the George W. They have a way of describing themselves as gay but the term is a misnomer. This association no doubt helped the gradual narrowing in scope of the term towards its current dominant meaning, which was at first confined to subcultures. Gay was the preferred term since other terms, such as queer , were felt to be derogatory. In midth century Britain, where male homosexuality was illegal until the Sexual Offences Act , to openly identify someone as homosexual was considered very offensive and an accusation of serious criminal activity.
Additionally, none of the words describing any aspect of homosexuality were considered suitable for polite society. Consequently, a number of euphemisms were used to hint at suspected homosexuality. Examples include "sporty" girls and "artistic" boys,  all with the stress deliberately on the otherwise completely innocent adjective. The sixties marked the transition in the predominant meaning of the word gay from that of "carefree" to the current "homosexual".
In the British comedy-drama film Light Up the Sky! He begins, "I'd like to propose The Benny Hill character responds, "Not to you for start, you ain't my type". He then adds in mock doubt, "Oh, I don't know, you're rather gay on the quiet.
Similarly, Hubert Selby, Jr. The Official Biography", because the song took its name from a homosexual promoter they'd encountered who'd had romantic designs on songwriter Ray Davies ' teenage brother; and the lines "he is so gay and fancy free" attest to the ambiguity of the word's meaning at that time, with the second meaning evident only for those in the know.
It has nevertheless been claimed that gay stands for "Good As You", but there is no evidence for this: