You surely know the word “fagot" or “fag”, this not very nice term that is often used to designate homosexuals. Well, did you know that its use started in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century, in youth culture? Initially, it was just a blanket slur to attack a group's masculinity and power.
Over time, the word “faggot” and its abbreviation “fag” spread to other English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom. They have appeared everywhere, in movies, music and even on the internet!
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The origin of the words "fag" or "faggot"
Now, let's look at the origin of this word. The first time it was used as an insult to gay men was in 1914, in a book on criminal slang. And the abbreviation “fag” appeared in 1923 in a book about the homeless. It is not known exactly where the word comes from, but it is related to the English word for "bundle of sticks". Weird, right?
In fact, before being used to refer to homosexuals, the word “faggot” was used to insult women, especially older women. And that may be where the association with homosexuality comes from, because feminine words are often used to refer to gay or effeminate men. It's like the words "nancy", "sissy" or "queen". Funny way to make connections, isn't it?
It is also said that in England, in public schools, the youngest boys did chores (sometimes sexual) for the older ones. But the word "fag" was used at the time, not "faggot". There is also an old use of the word “faggot” in England to refer to a man who joined the army just to fill the ranks, without really wanting to serve. But that has nothing to do with the modern usage of the word.
There's even a theory that the Yiddish word "faygele", which literally means "little bird" and was used as a slur towards gay men, may have influenced American usage of the word "faggot". It's crazy to see how words can travel and mix!
Alright, now let's get to the use of the word "fag". As early as 1914, it was found in books on criminal slang, with examples like: "All the faggots will be dressed in drag at the ball tonight." In 1923, we find it in a book on the homeless, where it is said that the "fairies" or "faggot" are men who use sex to earn money. Even in a 1928 novel, during the Harlem Renaissance, there is a reference to a "woman bulldyking and a faggot."
There is an urban legend that the modern slang meaning developed from the standard meaning of "faggot" as a "faggot of burning sticks" referring to burning at the stake. However, this claim is not. The emergence of the slang term in 20th-century American English has no connection to historical death sentences for homosexuality.
When young people get involved
Imagine yourself in an ethnographic study conducted in a high school. CJ Pascoe delved into the 2000s to understand how American teens used the word "fagot". His work culminated in a raving book in 2007, titled "Dude, You're a fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School."
So these guys, they were tossing around the term “faggot” as a weapon to assert their own masculinity. If a guy was deemed less virile, presto, he was called a “faggot”. According to them, it was less a question of sexual orientation than of gender. Crazy, right?
You won't believe me, but a third of the guys surveyed said they wouldn't call another gay guy "faggot." It got Pascoe thinking, who said that in this context, "faggot" was a way of enforcing the law of manhood. Guys laughed at other people who couldn't be "guy" enough, in the straight sense, strong and all that. It's that the guys don't want to be called “faggots”, so they throw it at someone else.
But wait, it's not over! Pascoe discovered that the "faggot" identity was not fixed for guys who were being insulted. It was pretty smooth, you know. The guys did everything to avoid it by designating someone else as “faggot”. "Hey, as long as it's not me, it's fine," they seemed to think.
Basically, the term “faggot” was like a sword hanging over their heads. They were suspicious of their own actions for fear that this label would stick to them. But hey, at the same time, they were smart enough to recognize when a behavior could pass for “faggot” and tried to avoid it.
That's what Pascoe said: the faggot identity is both a sword of Damocles and an escape for these guys. It's unstable enough that they watch their actions, but defined enough that they know when someone is getting too close to the faggot and do everything to avoid it.
Some LGBTQ+ people have reclaimed the term as a neutral or positive self-describing term. here are some examples:
In the English version of Queer as Folk from the 2000s, the character of Stuart says in the credits: I'm just a fag, I knew that!
In response to "fag" graffiti spray-painted on his car, an owner of a new Volkswagen Beetle christened it "fagbug" and embarked on a trans-American road trip to raise awareness about homophobia and children's rights. The trip was documented in a film of the same name. This word has really come a long way!
From this word derives several expressions such as: Fag Hag who is is a heterosexual woman or young girl who seeks real complicity with homosexual men. Just look at the excellent vox pop that we did asking the people interviewed what a fag hag is? It's hilarious and it's probably one of the best vox pops we've done!
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