A rose by any other name would still be Gay.
One of my favorite musicals is West Side Story, and one of my favorite songs in that musical is, “I Feel Pretty”. The lyrics go, “I feel pretty oh so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and gay”. If you hear the song in front of middle schoolers today you will probably hear some giggling. I can’t even remember the last time gay was used for its actual meaning, besides me occasionally to get a reaction.
I was told many times that gay used to mean happy. From there I thought that gay must mean homosexual now, because homosexual people are so happy. After all their symbol is a rainbow. The definition fits with the song’s theme of pretty and gay. I was surprised when I studied the etymology of the word gay. The word didn’t mean happy, it meant care free.
Happy, Carefree? – What’s the difference?
It may seem like a slight difference but it makes a big impact. Being carefree, like being happy is generally a good thing. I want to be carefree, everyone should be carefree. God therefore wants us all to be gay.
However, it isn’t good to be casual, or carefree with everything. For instance, I wouldn’t recommend being carefree with bullets in a crowded space. You shouldn’t be carefree with things that have value (we would use the word careless). If you are carefree with your money, eventually you can go broke. If you are carefree with your friends, eventually you’ll be lonely. Therefore God does not want us to be gay with what matters most.
When did gay become.. gay?
After a while, gay developed a negative connotation when attached to sexuality. If you had a gay sexuality it didn’t mean you were attracted to some one of the same sex, but more accurate that you were attracted to pretty much anybody. You were loose, and carefree (careless/gay) with your sexuality. There was nothing in that time seen as more loose or carefree than to be homosexual. After a while, the original meaning was largely lost and we were left with an association of gay with homosexual, and a vague sense of happiness.
The truth is language isn’t as stationary as we want to believe; it travels. It doesn’t travel, however, meaninglessly. It is pulled. It is pulled by cultural changes, and every culture is made up of individuals (That’s You!)
Last summer on vacation with my wife, we went into the mammoth caves. We travelled hundreds of stairs down and came across big rooms that were not carved by an army of dwarves, but a trickle of water. Over time drip by drip it changed the landscape. Water is powerful, and therefore should not be given time carelessly.
Socrates, I believe, stated once that a debate that doesn’t begin with defining terms is a pointless one. The reason – words travel with time, and between cultures. Language travels even between individuals, you can have a conversation where your words disagree but your ideas don’t. I have seen people argue with sweat on their brow, and anger in their voice only to eventually realize there was not an actual disagreement. When they finally defined the terms they were discussing, they had the same exact position only different terms.
Miscommunication is the cause of more arguments than differing perspectives.
Why does it matter?
So gay is now homosexual. Why should we care? If you pay attention to your words you can stop being a victim of them, and make them a victim of you, bending to your will. You can discuss ideas, and communicate concepts. Remember that words are only a vehicle for ideas, a way to get from A to B but the concept you are communicating is the destination.
Where are your words going?
If you even let water drip, carried by gravity, it will create caverns in solid rock. If you let your words go gaily, they will carve caverns in your soul.
DON’T BE GAY WITH YOUR WORDS
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider when a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. (James 3:3-5 NIV)
Choose your words carefully, and you will be driving your ideas in a Lamborghini instead of a Yugo. Choose your words frivolously and the car will drive you right off the cliff of your ideas.
Tame your Tongue
All kinds of mammals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be”. (James 3:7-10 NIV)
The verse is usually applied to vulgarity, but if we simply tame the tongue by not cursing than it would be easy to accomplish. The truth of taming the tongue is about more than just vulgarity, its about controlling your speech, and with it, controlling your ideas.
While saying the “F” word in every sentence is clearly not a tamed tongue, one that slips in gossip is more dangerous, and one that speaks with out-of date, or unknown colloquial expressions speaks brilliantly, but only to himself.
We can never fully tame our tongue, and we can ultimately not control where language goes, but we should not leave it unbridled either. We have to understand the nature of the beast. Understand your culture, and the culture of the person you are talking to. Not just their words but their values, it is the only way to bring about real change. It is the only way to have meaningful conversations.
Be gay with your worries but don’t be gay with your words, or your ideas will be lost in translation.
What word’s meanings have you discovered that have changed over time, or are different in other cultures?