A break down of homophobic language


Catherine Christy, Co-editor-in-chief

Disclaimer: this story highlights homophobic slurs and their meaning

Language is a powerful weapon that exists in an ever changing human climate. Because the use of slurs is often integrated into everyday conversation, their impact to those whom they do not effect are not felt. 

To understand slurs, one must understand where they come from and their evolution over time. Like many slurs, homophobic language derives from root words that have a basic meaning which then is twisted into hateful language. The roots of these words go through many shifts before becoming the slurs known today.

The dictionary definition of a “dike” is essentially synonymous to a ditch, but this is simply its own phrase and holds no relation to the slur used so commonly today. The “D” slur used today (commonly spelled with a “Y” rather than “I”), is often thought to be born from the word “hermaphrodite”, a medical term used to describe intersex plants and animals, occasionally used as a slur against intersex people. The term was assigned to lesbians under the assumption that all gay women are masculine or that they’d like to be men. 

Another possible root of the “D” slur stems all the way from the 1st century C.E. with a Celtic chieftain named Boudicca. Following her husband’s death, Boudicca was put in charge of her tribe. But the Romans who were occupying Britain at the time disagreed with a woman in power and in return slaughtered the Celts/Britons and demonized Boudicca. In doing this, the Romans reinforced the belief that women in power don’t belong and that only men are meant to sit in positions with influence. 

While it’s unclear what the true origin of the “D” slur is, it is certain that the slur itself was born with the intent to shame and label women who exist outside of the sexual binary.

The “F” slur is much easier to track when it comes to origins. The literal meaning of the word refers to a bundle of sticks. Though, as time has passed and language has shifted, the meaning of the word has gone through many evolutions, or perhaps devolutions. 

During the European Inquisitions, the F-slur was used in reference to the sticks that would kindle the flames that burned heretics who were against the Catholic church. In time, the word began to be used in regards to anything that carried burden and was often used against women as a sexist term. In the 19th-20th century, the “F” slur was used casually among British school boys, commonly referring to a younger, subservient boy. The word was equated with being a weak, submissive man, but never carried the depth in England as it did across the Atlantic in the United States. Though it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the word gained popularity in the states. At the time, the word was used against more “flamboyant” and “effeminate”  men, but transformed into a distinctly homophobic term towards the mid century. 

“The term grew more popular as well as more venomous during the middle of the century, and by the 1960s had become one of the most common slurs used against gay men, or men perceived to be gay,” according to GLESN. 

The “F” slur has had many meanings over the years, but at this point in time it’s a hateful phrase used with the implication that the worst thing a man can be is epicene and weak.

But with something as controversial and taboo as slurs, the lines are blurred when it comes to their place in the modern lexicon. It’s not uncommon for an oppressed group to take the language that’s been used against them and reclaim it in an effort to fight against their subjugation. Because slurs are so contentious, there’s a division of support for the concept of reclaiming slurs. While some minorities believe reclamation is a powerful action of resistance, others believe it’s simply offensive and that the words should be abandoned altogether.

“That’s one of the problems with reclaiming concepts: not only do you have a set of people who don’t understand that the word has been reclaimed in the first place, so they continue to use it in the older negative way, but you can also have different understandings of what the reclaiming actually means. And even if you’re in on it, you still may not want to participate,” said professor Paul Baker. 

As long as slurs are perpetuated in a culture that is uneducated and uninformed, their harmful presence will continue to impact the skewed perception of homosexuality in the modern world.