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Polari

Polari

Seemingly wedded to our apps today it's easy to forget that only a few decades ago Polari was used widely as a safe means of communication for the gay community.

Polari is an eclectic mix of slang, dialects and foreign words, and original words and phrases, woven into English language grammar and syntax. Even today, you have used Polari if you've ever had a few bevvies at the pub, zhooshed up your bijou flat, or said something is a bit naff.

Before homosexuality was decriminalised, Polari allowed gay people to speak openly and identify themselves as gay without attracting unwanted interest or the attention of undercover charpering omis (policemen). Unless you were in the know, you would only partially understand what was being said and hear nothing incriminating.


How gay men used to speak: a short film in Polari | Brian and Karl 24 Jun 2015 | 6m 17s

Vocabulary

Bona: Good
Dolly: Nice or pleasant
Eek: Face
Fantabulosa: Excellent
Lallies: Legs
Lattie: House
Lucoddy: Body
Nante: None or nothing
Naph: Bad
Omi: Man
Omipalone: Homosexual
Palare: Talk
Palone: Woman
Riah: Hair
Troll: Walk
Vada: Look

Here are some examples of Polari phrases:

How bona to varda your dolly old eek!
How good to see your dear old face!
Vada the dolly dish, shame about his bijou lallies
Look at the attractive man, shame about his short legs
Can I troll round your lally?
Can I have a look around your house?

Polari was popularised by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick who played Julian and Sandy (two camp out-of-work actors) in Round the Horne the 1960s BBC radio comedy show.

Round the Horne: Julian and Sandy | BBC | 9m 55s
Episode clips: Bona Ads, Bona Bauffont, The Lazy Bona Ranch, Bona Rags, Carnby Street Hunt, Bona Tours Ltd

Polari started declining after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act made homosexuality legal. Nevertheless, it is a proud part of our LGBT history.

Polari: The code language gay men used to survive | BBC Culture | 13 February 2018
Polari | The One BBC: One Show 17 Jan 2010 | 4m 00s
Stuart Feather and Bette Bourne talk about Polari | Re-Dock | 28 May 2014 | 4m 40s
 Bona Eke: Song in Polari | artdecoandy | 7 Dec 2014 | 5m 03s

Polari | Wikipedia
Polari: Word List | Chris Denning
Polari, a vibrant language born out of prejudice | The Guardian | 24 May 2010
The secret language of polari | Merseyside Maritime Museum
Polari Magazine | Polari Magazine

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