Our language is by far not a mere tool of communication used by people. Rather, it is a dynamically changing medium that reflects changes that take place in lives of the whole societies. That is why the sphere of linguistics is the ever urgent field of study that helps us understand how our language is connected, among other things, with the social circumstances we live in. To exemplify how language can exercise this function, we can take a look at how some words have adopted meanings that today are quite different from what they were in the past. One of such words is `gay`, which has progressed in its meaning from the initial characterization of a happy mood, to the denomination of persons not too confined by moral and social constraints, and to its modern firm association with homosexuality.
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The initial meaning of the adjective ‘gay’ was predominant since the word`s origin from the old French and Germanic languages, and was used in the sense of ‘carefree’ and ‘bright’. It was widely employed in literature and speech.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the word “started to acquire sexual connotations . . . with meaning “addicted to pleasures and dissipations” [and] . . . by the late nineteenth century the term “gay life” was a well-established euphemism for . . . sexual behaviour . . . perceived as immoral” (Wikipedia 2007).
Finally, by the middle of the twentieth century the word ‘gay’ started to be widely used in opposition to the term ‘straight’ (i.e. heterosexual), and since then this meaning has developed into an almost exclusive one for the word. What has been happening during the last decades was the growth of the complexity of the word`s usage, and the emergence of new grammatical forms of its application. Even some attempts to offer alleged acronyms for the word ‘gay’ were made, the most well known one being ‘good as you’.
As we can see, during its history of the semantic development the word ‘gay’ has indeed passed through several stages. In this regard, what is interesting is that it seems that the process of the gradual ascription to the word of the more and more sexually explicit meanings, starting from an adjective simply referring to an uninhibited person and ending with the openly homosexual connotation, reflects the process of the development of the social attitudes to the issue of homosexuality, which has been increasingly occupying more and more visible and often controversial place in public discussions. Thus, we can see that the language is indeed a flexible medium which enables an accommodation of new conceptions even in frames of its old vocabulary.—————————————————————————–
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