ï»¿Faggot or fag, in modern North American and Australian English is a word, and generally a pejorative slur term, for a gay or effeminate man. Its use has spread to varying extents elsewhere in the English-speaking world.
The terms are used less in this sense in British English, where "faggot" traditionally means a bundle of sticks and faggots are a kind of meatball, while "fag" is common slang for a cigarette or for hard work; in some public schools, fagging was the name given to the practice where a younger boy (a "fag") acted as an unpaid servant for an older boy.
The origins of the word in this preceding sense are rather obscure. The word faggot has also been used in English since the late 16th Century to mean "old or unpleasant woman," and the modern use may well derive from this. Female terms, it should be noted, are often used with reference to homosexual or effeminate men (cf. nancy, sissy, queen). The application of the term to old women is possibly a shortening of the term "faggot-gatherer", applied in the 19th Century to people, especially older widows, who made a meagre living by gathering and selling firewood. It may also derive from the sense of "something awkward to be carried" (compare the use of the word "baggage" as a pejorative term for old people in general).
It is sometimes claimed that the modern slang meaning developed from the standard meaning of "faggot" as "bundle of sticks for burning," presumably with reference to burning at the stake. This is unlikely to be the case, but if true, is comparable to Italian "finocchio," which literally translates as "fennel", but is used in Italian in a sense very close to modern English "faggot". It is popularly assumed that this use of "finocchio" originated in the time of the Holy Inquisition, when fennel was apparently thrown on persons burned at the stake to mitigate the stench of burned flesh. Nevertheless, there is no tradition of burning at the stake being used as a punishment for homosexuality in Britain, although supposed witches and heretics were burnt to death in many parts of Europe, and were often accused of homosexual behaviour.
The Yiddish word faygele, lit. "little bird", is also claimed by some as an explanation for the modern use of "faggot." The similarity between the two words makes it a reasonable possibility that it might at least have had a reinforcing effect.
An obsolete reference to faggot from 17th Century Britain refers to a "man hired into military service simply to fill out the ranks at muster."
Use in Britain
Originally confined to the United States, the homosexual sense of "fag" and "faggot" has been spread by American popular culture to other English-speaking countries, where it has partly displaced terms such as "queer" or the British term "poof" as abusive terms for gay men, particularly among heterosexual youth. However, the continuing use of "fag" and "faggot" with other meanings in the British isles has severely limited adoption of the American usage there.
The use of fag and faggot as the term for an effeminate man has become understood as an Americanism in British English, primarily due to their use in films and television series imported from the United States. When Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews was heard supposedly using the word in a bad-tempered informal exchange with a straight colleague in the House of Commons lobby in November 2005, he was criticised for using homophobic abuse.
Earliest written uses
The earliest known reference to the word in print was in the 1914 Jackson and Hellyer A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang, with Some Examples of Common Usages which listed the following example under the word, drag:
- "All the fagots (sissies) will be dressed in drag at the ball tonight."
The word was also used by a character in Claude McKayâ€™s 1928 novel Home to Harlem, indicating that it was used during the Harlem Renaissance. Specifically, one character says that he can't understand:
- "a bulldyking woman and a faggoty man"
Usage in popular culture
Historically, "fag" and "faggot" have been offensive terms when addressed to males (similar to the word "bitch" or "slut" to women). However in recent years, both terms have been reclaimed by men who are not ashamed of their effeminity in a defiant, self-consciously empowering or self-mocking way, much in the way some African Americans have taken to using the word "nigger" among themselves, and similar to hackers, geeks and nerds, in their respective circles. A common example of this would be usage of the term "fag hag" to describe a woman who associates with (and may prefer as non-sexual social partners) men of feminine behavior, though this use, too, was originally pejorative. When used as a pejorative, however, it is still considered by many to be a term of abuse. The Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing" makes notable use of the epithet "faggot", although the lines containing it are often excised for radio play, and in live performances Mark Knopfler will use such minced oaths as "mothertrucker" in place of "faggot".
In 1989, Sebastian Bach, lead singer of the band Skid Row, created a controversy when he wore a t-shirt with the parody slogan "Aids: Kills Fags Dead".
In 1995, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey referred to openly gay congressman Barney Frank as "Barney Fag" in a press interview. 
On July 27, 2006 American pundit Ann Coulter said that the former Vice President of the United States (Al Gore) was a "total fag", but suggested that former President of the United States (Bill Clinton) may be a "latent homosexual", while being interviewed by MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Coulter caused a major controversy in the LGBT community; GLAAD and other gay rights organizations demanded to know the reason why such an offensive usage of the word was permitted by the network.
In October 2006, Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington called his co-star T.R. Knight a "faggot" on the set during an argument with Patrick Dempsey. According to Knight, the incident led to him publicly coming out of the closet. Washington made another outburst using the epithet, this time backstage at the Golden Globe Awards. In January 2007, Washington issued a public apology for using the word "faggot" and went into rehab to help him with what the show's creator Shonda Rimes referred to as "his behavioral issues."
On March 1, 2007, Coulter again created a controversy when she made an off-color joke: "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word "faggot," so I'm kind of at an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards ..." Her comments using the "f-word" triggered a campaign by a gay rights group and media watchdog to persuade mainstream media outlets to ban her shows and appearances.
BBC radio station Radio 1 caused controversy in Christmas 2007 by editing the word "faggot" from their broadcasts of the Kirsty MacColl & The Pogues song "Fairytale of New York," deeming it potentially homophobic, however the edit did not extend to other BBC stations, such as Radio 2. Following widespread criticism and pressure from listeners, the decision was reversed and the original unedited version of the song was reinstated, with clarification from Andy Parfitt, the station controller, that in the context of the song the lyrics had no "negative intent."
Usage by publications
In its November 2002 issue, the New Oxford Review, a Catholic magazine, caused controversy by its use and defence of the word in an editorial. During the correspondence between the editors and a homosexual reader, the editors clarified that they would only use the word to describe a practising homosexual. They defended the use of the word, saying that it was important to preserve the social stigma of homosexuality.
- Morton (2005: 319); The Online Etymological Dictionary
- Morton (2005: 319)
- The Online Etymological Dictionary
- Morton, Mark (2005) Dirty Words: The Story of Sex Talk London: Atlantic Books: 309-323; see also: The Online Etymological Dictionary.
- Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch. Autonomedia: Brooklyn, 2004. Pg 192, 197
- MP's 'faggot' abuse 'disgraceful'
- Latest news, breaking news, current news, UK news, world news, celebrity news, politics news - Telegraph
- Michael Musto. "La Dolce Musto", village voice, 2000. http://www.villagevoice.com/nyclife/0022,musto,15284,15.html
- The Masters of Mean (2002-03-01).
- http://www.advocate.com/exclusive_detail_ektid35054.asp The Advocate magazine - "When hate speech becomes accepted"
- T.R. Knight: Isaiah Washington's Slur Made Me Come Out - Grey's Anatomy, Isaiah Washington, T.R. Knight : People.com
- E! News - Isaiah Enters Treatment - Isaiah Washington | T.R. Knight | Patrick Dempsey
- FOXNews.com - John Edwards Hopes to Raise 'Coulter Cash' After Commentator's 'Faggot' Comment - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party | Political Spectrum
- YouTube - Broadcast Yourself
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7149525.stm BBC News - "Radio 1 censors Pogues' Fairytale"
- Times Online - "Radio 1 reverses decision to censor Pogues hit"
- Sodom & the City of God
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