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29 October 2014

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The Voices Recordings

About this interview
Friends An interview with four members of a project for older gay men.

Steven Hallam, Peter Davis, Raymond Wilson, Paul Baguley,

Click on names to find out more about the participants.

Relationship of interviewees: All members of a gay men's group

Where: Hockley, Nottingham

Language of interview: English
About this interview
Voice clip 1
The men - all members of a Breakout, a group for older gay men in Nottingham - discuss words for toilet, including 'bog' and 'lavatory'. The word "lavatory" provokes quite an argument as to whether it's a "posh" or a "common" word!

Voice clip 2
Ray (the oldest man in the group, in his 60s) speaks Polari which the other men have never heard before. They are genuinely surprised and wonder if it's old Nottinghamian! He explains what Polari is, and gives more examples, the other men are fascinated and they all find the language very funny.

More clips from this interview

Steven Hallam, Customer services
Memories of going to grammar school and picking up "posh" words from fellow pupils.
Interview's notes

Long description of interview: The men are a lively bunch, they known each other well as they meet weekly with the older gay men's project 'Breakout'. Peter, Steven, and Ray are the most vocal. They are funny when deciding if words like "lavatory" are posh or common! The discussion on Polari - code language which used to be used on the gay scene - is fascinating, especially because Ray (the oldest man in the group, in his 60s) can speak it, but the younger men have never heard of it. They discuss words used in the gay community and the difficulty of being openly gay in a straight environment. Their take on Nottingham is also interesting - they don't think much of it!

Recorded by: Sarah Julian, Radio Nottingham
Interview's notes

Jonnie Robinson, Curator, English accents and dialects, British Library Sound Archive, writes:

Polari is a language that was once extremely common among the gay population of the United Kingdom as a means of communicating with like-minded people at a time when speakers perhaps felt they had more need of a private slang. It probably had its heyday in the 1960s and was indeed regularly featured on the BBC radio programme 'Round the Horne'. Its vocabulary is a wonderful combination of words from various sources: Romany, Yiddish, Italian, canal-speak, theatre-speak, rhyming slang and back-slang. In many ways it resembles other secret languages, such as children's codes or butcher's back-slang - means of communication that send out a strong signal of membership to the initiated, while excluding those outside the target group. The word polari itself, meaning to chat, derives from the Italian verb parlare, meaning to talk.

The words mentioned here would at one time have been widely understood in gay circles. Vada means to see; eek is an abbreviation of ecaf, back-slang for face; dolly means handsome; riha is hair, so rihary means hairy; lally is a leg; bona means good and is still widely used in gay publications; omi means man and polone means woman. The word naff, originally a polari word meaning bad or drab has entered into British mainstream slang.



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