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Gail, or Gayle, is an English and Afrikaans-based secret language used primarily by English and Afrikaans-speaking gay men in urban communities of South Africa, and is similar in some respects to Polari in the United Kingdom, from which some lexical items have been borrowed. The equivalent language used by gay South African men who speak Bantu languages is called IsiNgqumo, and is based on a Nguni lexicon.
Gail originally manifested as "moffietaal" (Afrikaans: literally, "gay man language") in the drag culture of the Cape Coloured community in the 1950s. It permeated into white homosexual circles in the 1960s and became part of mainstream white gay culture through South African Airways "koffie-moffies" (Afrikaans: literally, "coffee gay men," a slang name for flight attendants) in the 1970s.
Besides a few core words borrowed from Polari (such as the—originally Romany—word varda meaning "to see"), most of Gayle's words are alliterative formations using women's names, such as Beulah for "beauty", Priscilla, meaning "police", and Hilda for "hideous". Men, especially other gay men, are often referred to by female pronouns, as is the custom among almost all gay countercultures throughout the world.(Cage, 1999, p.36)
Gail arose for the same reason that most anti-languages develop in marginalized communities—to have a secret language in an oppressive society. However it also fulfilled other functions such as to "camp up" conversation, and provide entertainment in a subculture where verbal wit and repartee are highly valued.
Varda that Beulah! Vast mitzi. She's a chicken and probably Priscilla and I don't need Jennifer Justice in my life right now.
Translation: "Look at that beauty! Very me. He's young and probably a policeman and I don't need trouble with the law in my life at the moment." (From the Exclusive Books' review of Gayle: the language of Kinks and Queens)
- Ken Cage. Gayle - the Language of Kinks & Queens. A History and Dictionary of Gay Language in South Africa. Jacana Media 2003. ISBN 1-919931-49-X. (link)
- Ken Cage. "An investigation into the form and function of language used by gay men in South Africa". Unpublished M.A. thesis 1999. Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg, South Africa
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