Gay is not a synonym for stupid

Last night, a trending topic on twitter* really annoyed me.

The offending tag was #stopthatthatsgay, and people (who may or may not realize how public and permanent their tweets are) were making inane comments like:

Recently, the media has reported on a string of suicides by gay youth and youth perceived to be gay. Many of these kids were routinely mocked or beaten up at school, and these tragedies have prompted a very public conversation about ending homophobic bullying. When I saw the trending topic last night, I thought about the banality of torment.

This morning I woke up to see that my words were being re-tweeted by many other concerned twitter users:

I also received a link to a petition to stop the tag and a link to a more general awareness-raising site “Think Before You Speak” that is trying to discourage the derogatory use of phrases like “that’s so gay.”

I also saw counter-tags like #loveislouder, #itgetsbetter, and #carryonthatscute. I hope that anyone struggling with bullying sees the support, and not just the insensitivity.

And, if you really want to use the word “gay” as an adjective, at least use it correctly.


gay – bright and pleasant; promoting a feeling of cheer; “a cheery hello”; “a gay sunny room”; “a sunny smile”
cheerful – being full of or promoting cheer; having or showing good spirits; “her cheerful nature”; “a cheerful greeting”; “a cheerful room”; “as cheerful as anyone confined to a hospital bed could be”
gay – full of or showing high-spirited merriment; “when hearts were young and gay”; “a poet could not but be gay, in such a jocund company”- Wordsworth; “the jolly crowd at the reunion”; “jolly old Saint Nick”; “a jovial old gentleman”; “have a merry Christmas”; “peals of merry laughter”; “a mirthful laugh”
joyous – full of or characterized by joy; “felt a joyous abandon”; “joyous laughter”
gay – given to social pleasures often including dissipation; “led a gay Bohemian life”; “a gay old rogue with an eye for the ladies”
indulgent – characterized by or given to yielding to the wishes of someone ; “indulgent grandparents”
gay – brightly colored and showy; “girls decked out in brave new dresses”; “brave banners flying”; “`braw’ is a Scottish word”; “a dress a bit too gay for her years”; “birds with gay plumage”
colourfulcolorful – striking in variety and interest; “a colorful period of history”; “a colorful character”; “colorful language”
gay – offering fun and gaiety; “a festive (or festal) occasion”; “gay and exciting night life”; “a merry evening”
joyous – full of or characterized by joy; “felt a joyous abandon”; “joyous laughter”
gay – homosexual or arousing homosexual desires
homosexual – sexually attracted to members of your own sex


Again, thanks to everyone who re-tweeted my response — you’ve made today much more bright and gay than yesterday! And, since I started with a little humour, I’ll end with a musical number created back when proposition 8 sought to restrict the definition of marriage in California to opposite-sex couples — a situation that got better.

(By the way, I should say that many religious groups opposed proposition 8. For instance, the California Council of Churches stated that Proposition 8 would infringe on the freedom of religion for churches who wish to bless same-sex unions.)


*In case you don’t use twitter: trending topics (or TT) come up on the sidebar to list what people are tweeting about. Often times, these topics are preceded by a “#” (or hash tag) to make it easier to mark the phrase off as a topic of conversation.)


13 thoughts on “Gay is not a synonym for stupid

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Gay is not a synonym for stupid « The Fab Files --

  2. Actually, considering the way the English language is constantly in flux with words picking up new meanings all the time, “gay” IS a synonym for stupid as well as all the other meanings. Just because it is not in a dictionary, doesn’t make it not true. It has been part of slang for many, many years. In the same way that “gay” originally had NO connection to homosexuality but now does (and the original meaning can hardly be used anymore), so too does it now have another colloquial meaning. To suggest that using the word “gay” to mean stupid is impacting on homosexual youth suicide is a HUGE leap. The hashtag #stopthatthatsgay has NOTHING to do with homophobic bullying.

    I would also have to disagree that allowing same-sex marriages made the situation better. Studies show that children are best served by a mother and a father in clearly defined roles, and that growing up with out one or the other leads to much higher risk or being involved in dangerous behaviours and other trouble. (And I am not being homophobic here – there is no fear or hatred involved1)

    • This hashtag emerged at a time of heightened awareness about teen suicides that have been connected to homophobic bullying.

      I’m not implying a direct causality between the use of this word and suicide, but I do think this slang is insensitive at best. Using gay to mean stupid, bad, wrong, etc, contributes to a climate of intolerance and alienation, and I’m not okay with that.

      Did you read the kinds of tweets that were attached to the tag? To say that the hashtag has “NOTHING” to do with bullying is untrue. For instance, I saw some tweets that mocked individual twitter users or “gay” appearances and behaviours. Believe me, the examples I chose were not the worst of the lot.

      I get that language changes, but we can also resist colloquialisms that are hurtful to identifiable groups.

      I can’t speak to your mention of anonymous studies that “show” what you claim–most sociological studies “indicate” things at best–but, on the face of it, I can think of many negative and positive exceptions to “a mother and a father in clearly defined roles” that have nothing to do with homosexuality.

      • So again, it is not the word that is the problem at all – it is the attitude behind it. If people are attacking homosexuals (as people, rather than the behaviour) then that is a problem no matter what words they use. And if they are commenting on something that has nothing to do with homosexuality, then the use of the word “gay” has nothing to do with homophobia (similar to the overblown case of the Australian sports start who used the word “faggot” – her comment had nothing to do with homosexuality, but people called her homophobic – ridiculous).
        Using gay to mean homosexual was a disgrace already and ruined a perfectly fine word for the rest of us. Using it to also mean stupid, bad just like “filth” and “sick” meant good, has nothing to do with homosexuality or intolerance. Do you also have the same problem with the word “lame” being used to mean the same thing – isn’t that creating intolerance of people with mobility disabilities?
        In the same way that far too many issues in America become “race issues” even though race was part of it, but there happened to be a black person vs a white person, far too much is made out of this as well.
        I’m not denying that homosexual bullying takes place and is wrong – bullying anybody for any reason is equally wrong, and it’s the behaviour that should be tackled, not the person – but it is naive or overzealous to think that the use of the word “gay” in this manner makes any difference. Those who attack the person would do it regardless of any words.
        Related to this is my disgust at the introductions of “gay hate crime” legislation. Isn’t ALL bashing/mugging crime about hate, and already illegal? Why did we need another law especially for gays?
        In our rush to become more “tolerant” we are actually getting more and more intolerant, which is a great shame.

        • Well, thanks for taking the time to articulate some of your ideas. I agree that if people are attacking anyone for who they are, it is a problem writ large, but I maintain that language — and conversations about language, idioms, meaning, intention, etc — are both interesting and important.

          This is part of the reason I am happy to publish respectful counter arguments on my blog, and although I am in no way demanding that everyone agree with me, part of the way I navigate these complex questions is to reflect on them publicly and engage in debate.

          To say that the word “gay,” or the way it is used, has nothing to do with homophobia is a broad and inaccurate statement in my opinion, and I also think that many people who use “gay” in a derogatory manner simply do so insensitively or unthinkingly. At its simplest level, I think the PSA above is just one way to raise the point for people who may not have considered it.

          You said in an earlier comment that language is always in flux (true) and that colloquial meanings, whether acknowledged in the dictionary or not, hold weight — okay, maybe the title would be more accurate as “gay *should not be* a synonym for stupid.”

          But in this post you say “using gay to mean homosexual was a disgrace already and ruined a perfectly fine word for the rest of us” … but this assumes some stasis of meaning that you’ve previously contested. Here’s what I make of this: although we disagree about how the word should be used we’re both putting forward value judgements within a larger linguistic landscape.

          That’s the point — I’m attempting to have a conversation about one particular colloquial usage that I disagree with, and although issues of race/class/gender/ability are part of the larger discussion, I have to be honest and say that I’m still figuring out how we can have constructive conversations about the big picture.

          When you say “it’s the behaviour that should be tackled, not the person,” I agree – but I do see language and the way we use it as a part of behaviour. I definitely think it’s fair game for critical discussion. You may think it’s “naive or overzealous” to examine one idiom, but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree.

          Finally, you say that “those who attack the person would do it regardless of any words,” but much of the bullying that happens is partially or entirely verbal, words can hurt like literal sticks and stones.

          *Phew* This was one way to start my Monday. It’s been interesting!

      • “show”

        That’s the same thing!

        I haven’t got any links/details but I have heard several reports being discussed that showed/indicated/suggested/whatever:
        Girls who grow up without father and mother much more likely to have teenage pregnancy, single mother, promiscuity, drugs
        Boys who grow up without father and mother much more likely to end up in jail, drugs, alcohol abuse, violence.
        Sure there are exceptions, but in general this is the case.

        • Again, methodology and source matter just as much as finding, so I can’t speak to “several reports.”

  3. Sing it, Fabi!

    I saw that Wanda Sykes PSA a day or two ago, as well as a few other ones, and I wish I had the guts to tell that to someone’s face the next time I hear ‘gay’ used as ‘dumb’ or ‘lame’.

    Part of me doesn’t want to make it a big deal, part of me doesn’t want to risk upsetting friends (friends both you and I know) and ruining a night’s vibe…and part of me gets angry!

    I signed the petition as well. And I gotta say the PSAs give good ideas on what to say back the next time it happens to me.

    • Thanks, Edi. I think the Sykes “cheesy moustache” approach is a little easier at a party than busting out theories on evolving language and complicating idioms.

      We should think of a few fun ones for our mutual friends. We can playfully push back without ruining a night’s vibe, I’m sure!


  4. Fiercefab: You have too much patience, IMHO.
    My eyes glazed over halfway through BrisGuy’s comment…and yours, a little, lol.

    People don’t really deconstruct what they do or say — that’s so… opinionated blogger.

  5. Pingback: “Wowing” the Wordpress Blog-Health-o-Meter in 2010 « The Fab Files

  6. I fact i know quite a few people saying this slang term and so far ihave been the only person being mocked for not saying it and it’s very refreshing to see i’m not alone in the fight for civilized life

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