Polari is a secret language that was once used by the LGBTQ+ community in Britain. This unique form of slang originated in the 19th century among gay men, drag queens, and other marginalized groups as a way to communicate privately and avoid persecution. Over time, Polari evolved into a rich and colorful linguistic heritage that is now being rediscovered and celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community.

The origins of Polari can be traced back to Britain’s criminal underworld, where gay men and drag performers faced discrimination and violence for their sexual orientation. In order to protect themselves from harassment and persecution, these individuals developed a secret language that allowed them to communicate with each other without drawing unwanted attention.

Polari was made up of a mix of English, Italian, Yiddish, and Romani words, as well as rhyming slang and backslang. It was characterized by its playful and irreverent use of language, as well as its campy and theatrical tone. Polari was used as a way to bond with other members of the LGBTQ+ community, to express their shared experiences and struggles, and to create a sense of solidarity and belonging.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Polari is its ever-changing nature. As new words and phrases entered the lexicon, old ones fell out of use, making Polari a constantly evolving and dynamic language. Polari was also used as a form of camouflage, allowing LGBTQ+ individuals to communicate openly in public spaces without risking their safety.

Despite its secretive origins, Polari eventually began to be embraced by the mainstream LGBTQ+ community in the 20th century. It was popularized by comedians, musicians, and radio personalities, who incorporated Polari into their performances as a way to signal their affiliation with the queer community. The language also found its way into popular culture, with references to Polari appearing in films, television shows, and literature.

Today, Polari is experiencing a revival among LGBTQ+ activists, scholars, and artists who are rediscovering and celebrating its unique heritage. Organizations like the Polari Mission are working to preserve and promote the language, while events like Polari Night at the British Library are bringing together LGBTQ+ people to share stories, poetry, and music in Polari.

In a world where LGBTQ+ individuals still face discrimination and violence, the language of Polari serves as a powerful reminder of the resilience and creativity of queer communities. By reclaiming and celebrating their linguistic heritage, LGBTQ+ people are acknowledging their shared history and identity, and taking pride in the unique culture that has shaped their lives. In the words of the Polari saying, “Omee-palone – we are not alone.”

By mike