English Language Literature and the Making of Queer Linguistics, 1800-2008

Words have meanings and those meanings matter.  At their very most basic, words are sounds with meanings attached to them.  Those meanings can be representative of tangible things, like “cup” or “hand,” but they can also be representative of more abstract concepts like “justice” or “mercy.”  These latter examples are not concrete and cannot exist in the world except for in our collective agreement to believe in the concept and to honor that mutual understanding.  These abstractions come from a social understanding of how the world works and are not merely labels of the mundane and the tangible.

Because these words represent abstractions, they are subject to connotation in a way concrete objects are not.  The aforementioned cup is neither good nor bad. It may be ugly, it may be broken, it may be hard to drink from, but it is not bad.  Justice and mercy, on the other hand, are subject to more complicated discussion. Both are considered to be generally good, but what about when what is just is not merciful, or the other way around?  I will leave you to muse that at a later time; my point is merely that abstractions both represent the ephemeral ideas of a complex society and hold nuances which can make their discussion difficult.

This essay addresses the nuances of abstract language with regards to the LGBTQ community in English language literature. Language of queerness is important; anyone who writes on the topic will agree, but why?  Why does it matter if we have words for asexual and pansexual and grey-a and heteromantic; why can’t gay and straight be enough? Most simply, the language we use to talk about people with non-heterosexual sexual orientations became important the moment we stopped labeling behavior (as in, two women sleep together) and started labeling people (as in, she’s the sort of woman who sleeps with women).  When we talk about people rather than talking about behavior, we label people in the abstract. Whether that label becomes an identity of which to be proud or ashamed is due entirely upon connotation, context, and specificity.

One of the essential truths of queerness is its relation to heterosexuality.  Most people in this world are heterosexual and heterosexuality existed as a normative behavior before individuals were identified as homosexual.  Therefore, everything in understanding queer language is constructed within the context of a larger, dominantly heterosexual society, including the queerness off being queer.  That is to ask, is it really that odd for same-sex people to engage romantically or sexually? Perhaps only in a culture that is dominantly heterosexual. This opening offers two opportunities.  The first opportunity is to reassess the society in which these labels originated. Society can be hard to see at times because it’s all around us all the time; it’s what we know and understand and it’s the way in which we know and understand the world.  It’s hard to see through, except when it’s questioned. The fact that some people are queer and others’ varied and strong reactions to that identity are proof that it can stand some questioning. The second opportunity is to examine the evolution of how non-heterosexual identities have been perceived and talked about over time.  This task asks that the very centrality of the conversation shift to reexamine the progression and development of new ideas.

Queer theory focuses largely on the questioning of the context in which systems were created.  Whether or not a term becomes a slur or an identity is largely dependent on the intent behind its creation; who develops a new word with meaning and why did they give it that meaning?  For example, “queer” used to mean “strange.” For a while, it meant “deviant pervert homosexuals.” Now, it’s been reclaimed and means “not heterosexual.” Depending on which people create a meaning for a word, and what their intent is and how a word is subsequently used, it changes not only the definition but the connotations of a word.  We as a society decides upon what concepts are deserving of words, and we can also decide which words’ meanings can be allowed to fade away.

One important factor to understanding queer language is understanding formal and informal linguistics.  Formal linguistics adheres to formal rules about language. Simply put, we adhere to language’s rules. Informal linguistics, on the other hand, serves people.  Informal linguistics changes grammar and diction and definitions and the ways in which words are used. Informal linguistics are forgiving of individual needs and needs of smaller communities and are willing to let go of what a society no longer needs.  Words change their meanings when there is need for a new expression of concept. It’s frustrating to no end to have thoughts for which there aren’t yet words. It’s even harder to share those wordless musings, expand them and gain validation by them. So when that new concept arises, people talk around it until a word is assigned to it and everyone agrees upon that new word’s meaning.  That word might be a recycling of an old word, like “gay,” or a word which never meant anything else, like “transgender.” Those words allow people to speak more accurately about the concepts which matter to them and eventually they’ll reach another point where they need more words to describe what they need to talk about. This is why it is necessary to have so many labels; because since we have started labeling people rather than behavior it has become important that they feel represented by their label.  After all, language was invented by us to serve us and it ought to do its job right. We can only use the words and rules we have to express the concepts we need to communicate. Words represent thoughts which in turn influence how we act and interact. For example, a young lesbian might think that a butch girl had to date a femme girl and vice versa. Her reasoning? Someone needed to be the man. This sort of cultural understanding is based on the heteronormative culture in which she lives and puts limitations on her ability to imagine herself.  In this case, this girl adhered to straight norms. She only allowed herself to deviate so far from what is considered good and normal; she believed there had to be a man in a lesbian relationship, which seems to defeat the purpose of being a lesbian. But there’s a more insidious implication, too. In addition to the complexity of their identity, language affects the positivity of their identity. After all, how can one think about themselves or others positively if all the words that describe them are negative or so taboo they can’t be spoken?

The negativity surrounding queer language and the taboos around talking about sexuality and deviants have been some of the greatest inhibitors in the development of queer language.  People can only talk about ideas represented by words which they already have in use. In order to gain greater complexity in language, there must first be the need for that greater diversity and complexity.  Queer topics, in this case, must be in writing and in conversation for people to need more words for it. In order for linguistic intricacies to develop, people must start talking about a subject and discover the lexical gaps and fill the lacunae.  

This is another issue when it comes to the evolution of queer language.  Not only was it developed to describe deviant behavior, but it has been traditionally (and, to a lesser degree, contemporarily) considered improper to talk about.  This is why it is important not only to study the way in which words were used over time, but the frequency of their use. At which times were people talking about sexual orientation?  When did it matter? When was it something that was okay to write about? The real perceptions of real people are at stake, so it is important to be thoughtful about how often queerness has been spoken about as well as careful the language which as been used to describe them.

I therefore offer this analysis to show that popular conversation about queerness leads to more complicated conversation about the intricacies about queerness. Overall, the use of words describing queerness has increased in the last half century, meaning both conversation about queerness and more intricate conversation about queerness. As conversations developed about queerness there were more concepts than there were terms.  More words, therefore, were developed to fill these lexical gaps. Some words, like “queer” and “faggot” were invented to insult people in ways which “sodomite” and “tribade” couldn’t quite accomplish. Other words, such as “gay” and “bisexual” were invented to describe queer people in a more positive or more specific light. As conversations grow more complex, they also in the last 20 years have grown more positive towards the LGBT community as enjoyed increased visibility.  Increasingly complex conversations have continued to develop within and outside of the LGBT community.

In order to prove this, I draw on an analysis garnered from Google NGram.  This database of all English-language books graphs the frequency of words used in English language literature.  This allows one to see trends in a word’s temporal, comparative popularity. There is a secondary feature which allows a user to see the books published in each year.  The titles and descriptions of the books’ text allow an analysis of the content and the connotations of each publication with regards to the LGBT words. This feature is also useful with regards to the words which changed meanings at some time, such as “Sapphic” and “gay” as it lets one see the point at which the meaning changed.  It also allows one to see the connotations of words change or not change over time.

To see these patterns, I have chosen to analyze ten words; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, homosexual, Sapphic, tribade, sodomite, and faggot.  This array includes six words which used to have a different meaning (gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, Sapphic, and faggot) as well as four which have had consistent meanings.  It also includes the five most popular non-heterosexual identities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Homosexual is an important word to include in this list because of its historical context of being a clinical diagnosis and still prevailing in legal literature. “ Tribade” and “sodomite” are both older words which have consistent meanings and connotations and are interesting to track with regards to their popularity compared to other words’ trends.  “Sapphic” is a unique word in this list because, like “Platonic”, it is used with regards to an Ancient Greek homosexual author and the word has changed from being used as a poetic form to being with regards to the poet Sappho’s sexual interest in women. Also unique is “faggot,” which is the worst word a queer person could be called and needs to be tracked, since it was a word specifically invented to hurt queer people.

One final note on the frequency of words.  There are cases in which the words in print are not necessarily indicative of the frequency of spoken words.  Clinical and legal words, such as “homosexual,” are used with more frequency in writing than their spoken counterparts.  Insults, such as “faggot,” are used with less frequency than their spoken counterparts. This understood, the data at hand is still useful.  While it is not necessarily best practice to compare these words against words with less connotation, like “bisexual” or “gay,” they can still be compared against themselves to show change over time.  As their popularity increases and decreases relative to its own history, one can get a sense for the trends of its use. Further, the context given by Google NGram allows analysis of the meaning of words as they change over time, which helps to analyze the ways in which words were being used, regardless of their popularity in text and speech.

The first of my selected words to be used to describe non-heterosexual behavior were “tribade” and “sodomite.”  These words were used in 1800 and were the only used to be used until just before the turn of the century. The use of these words were very infrequent and static in their infrequency.  In fact, until 1920, “tribade” was not used more frequently than approximately 1 in 500 million written words. While “sodomite”’s popularity fluctuated a bit more, its popularity didn’t grow to more than 1 word in 19 million until the 1990’s.

While these words are very unpopular in written usage, they did capture the connotations of the day.  In fact, it is because of their unpopularity that their connotations have remained intact through time.  “Tribade,” was one of the first words used to describe homosexual women, and carried a connotation that she was not a real woman and not a good woman.  A tribade was a bad wife who promiscuously cheated on her husband with another woman. Some usages imply that she didn’t have the correct anatomy to be entirely female and that her preferences for female sexual partners meant that she wanted to be a man or was in part a man.  There are some connotations towards intersexuality that accompany this word. “Sodomite” is similar in the baggage it carries. The word often references the immasculinity of its subject and implies that he is less of a man because of his preference for other men as sexual partners.  These words both imply a sort of inversion, implying that the tribade or the sodomite is not really one of their own gender because of their preferences. Because of the unpopularity of these words, their meanings have not changed over time. When they are used today, they are often used to describe past events and connotations held by a time in the past.

When conversation around homosexuality got more complex, rather than change the connotations of “tribade” and “sodomite,” new words were invented in order to describe people in new ways.  “Homosexual” appeared in writing around 1895 and “lesbian” appeared shortly after around 1900. Like its predecessors, “homosexual” had and maintains specific connotations. It is used primarily in clinical, biological, or legal settings to this day.  Even psychologists and sociologists tend to use other words over “homosexual” out of respect for the identities of their subjects of study and for the sake of specificity in their work. While less popular than some other written words, “homosexual” has gone through the same boom in popularity compared to its origins.  In 1895, it would have been seen approximately one time in 18 million words. At the peak of its use in 1995, it would have been seen approximately once in 90 thousand words. Its relatively baggage-free, clinical usage allowed it to be the first word angled at being scientific rather than condemning towards the behavior.

“Lesbian” on the other hand is the first word which was borrowed from another area of language.  Originally referring to the residents of the island of Lesbos, the word came to mean a woman who was romantically and sexually interested in other women.  This word carries no particular baggage, as do the first three words. Rather, the context in which “lesbian” is used over time shows more about the society which uses the word rather than the society which created the word.  Unlike “homosexual” it does not hold clinical connotations, but because it is baggage-free compared to “tribade,” it can be used for more formal discussions of homosexuality. When it was first used around the turn of the century, “lesbian” may have been seen about one time in 64 million words.  At its peak usage in 1995, it was seen approximately once in 63 thousand words.

Because “lesbian” is contextual in its connotative meaning, its usage has changed to reflect the changing social attitudes towards female homosexuality. In the early 1900’s, “lesbian” was used to express deviant behavior.  As time has progressed, books have been written more clinically about lesbians. In recent years they have been written to support and help foster lesbian relationships as any relationship might be written about. Also interesting is the change in writing about lesbians to writing for lesbians, meaning that they are seen as people in need of information and in want of recognition.

It was 40 years later that “transgender” began being used in print.  In the first few decades, beginning in the late 1930’s, this word was used incredibly infrequently.  It did become more popular than approximately 1 word in 1.3 billion until the 1970’s. This early development of “transgender” as a concept and as a word shows simultaneously the need for a word to describe the concept of a person who did not identify with the body they had been born into and the unease with which people—even clinicians—approached the topic.  Even at its peak popularity in 1999, “transgender” never grew more popular than 1 word in 3.1 million.

In 1980, as the relative popularity of writing about homosexuality was increasing and perhaps hit a critical mass of sorts because the need for more words again was met with the advent of “gay” and “bisexual.”  Additionally, some people felt they didn’t have a word yet that was packed with enough ill intent towards homosexual people and “faggot” became more popular in hate speech. Like “lesbian,” “gay” and “bisexual” both originated from words already in the English lexicon and were intended to describe a person in a non-clinical, non-derogatory way.  In 1980, gay stopped referring as heavily to cheerful things and began to refer more to male homosexuals in a more positive way. It is interesting, too, to note that in the 1980’s, the use of “homosexual” plateaus as “gay” is used as a more positive self-identity and replacement. In 1980, the popularity of “gay” was 1 word in 140 thousand. By its peak popularity in 1995, it could be found one word in 37 thousand, by far the most popular term for queerness of any sort.

Likewise, “bisexual” changed meanings in the 1980’s; it was initially a word used for a way that plants pollinated.  Its use in humans stems from that original use, referring to a person who is interested in partners of either sex or gender.  This word, unlike its counterpart, “pansexual,” still recognizes a gender dichotomy, but at the time was the most nuanced word with regards to human behavior and preference with regards to romance and sexuality.  “Bisexual,” like “gay” and “lesbian” has no specific connotation of its own and continues to evolve in its usage as societal connotations towards the connotation change.

At the same time, “faggot” was adapted as an insult.  It appeared in print one word of every 5.3 million in 1980 and one in every 3.3 million words at its peak in 1995, just behind “transgender.”  The relative popularity of this word in print may be misleading, too. As mentioned before, people are more likely to speak an insult than to put it in print.  In fact, one of the early examples of written text was a psychology piece reflecting on the impact of verbal insults such as “queer” and including “faggot,” leading to the conclusion that its spoken origin was even earlier and also more prevalent than its print origin and more popular than its print use. Further, its meaning and the origin of that meaning is very telling about the socio-political climate in which it was developed.  As mentioned before, words are created when people need to communicate a concept and have no way to communicate it. There was by the 1970’s and 1980’s a need for a word to communicate visceral and absolute disgust for homosexuals. There was a need for a word to not just describe them as disgusting, but to make it a key part of their label and identity. There was a need for a word to dehumanize and delegitimize homosexuals that couldn’t be found in the existing clinical “homosexual” or historically connotated “tribade” and “sodomite.”  The need for this new word was felt by so many that “faggot” was adapted and by 1980 was so prevalent that it was put into printed literature. The contexts in which “faggot” was used have not changed since the new meaning was coined. It is used to communicate one point of view and means only one thing. The switch was sudden. In 1980, studies about the concern about hate speech were published, in 1981 there were still published knitting patterns which used the word “faggot” in reference to a kind of lace stitch, but shortly thereafter it was used exclusively as a derogatory and hateful word to make others feel less human and to make them seem less human to the speaker and to the speaker’s audience.

Graphically, an interesting trend can be seen at the moment these three words change their meanings.  In all three graphs, there is a little bump and dip in popularity around 1980 as the words were used in two contexts at once; to talk about both cheerful things and male homosexuals, both flora and people sexually attracted to both genders, and as a bundle as well as in hate speech.  The overall trends towards greater popularity continue after this point as the new meaning catches on and the old meanings’ usages fall away.

The last two words of this study, “Sapphic” and “queer,” came into use with regards to homosexuality in the 1990’s.  The etymology of “Sapphic” is very similar to the etymology of “lesbian,” as they are, in fact, named after the same woman, Sappho the Lesbian.  This woman poet’s writing was of a certain form, which was the original meaning behind “Sapphic;” a poetic form. This was its dominant meaning until the 1990’s (though sparse reference to Sapphic love was made in the 1950’s).  Regardless, the meaning of the word had not changed significantly until the 1990’s. At this point, “Sapphic” took on a slightly more romanticized and more sexual connotation as compared to “lesbian,” although never reached the same popularity.  At its one-off numeric peak in 1959, its use was only one word in 8.1 million, and recent uses, though more connoted towards lesbianism and less towards poetry, only reach a popularity of once in 62 million words, or less than one percent as popular as “lesbian” in common written usage.

The final word on this list is “queer,” which also began to be used popularly to print to describe homosexuality around 1990. At this turn in meaning, “queer” could be found one in every 510 thousand words, and by its height in popularity in 2008 it could be found once in every 100 thousand words.  The word originally meant “strange” and could be found in all sorts of writings. Like “gay,” it was a very general-use word that could mean many things.

The first change in meaning is not represented well in this study.  For a time, “queer,” like “faggot,” was used as a derogatory term. For the same reasons as “faggot” is underrepresented in text, “queer” is similarly scarcely published under this definition.  The difference is that “queer” was a more popular word than “faggot” by the 1980’s and 1990’s. Therefore, the few cases when it was written down as a slur have been obscured by the fast majority of cases in which it means “strange” or otherwise used as a positive identifier by the LGBTQ community.  This gap shows some of the shortcomings of this methodology. Yet, the moment when “queer” stopped meaning “strange” and became a positive self-identifier can be pegged to approximately 1990.

With this data laid out, several conclusions can be drawn and several trends become clear.  The first is a result of the extreme informalness of queer language. Language used by and to describe the queer community are, for the most part, recent developments created or adapted by active choices.  This means that words can have multiple meanings during a period of transition. That period of transition begins when the new definition has come into popular usage and ends when it becomes the dominant usage and when it becomes the understood meaning of the word.

Yet this period of transition can make it difficult to peg a precise moment of change.  Sometimes meanings change rapidly, as with “faggot” which didn’t remain a term for “bundle” for very long after it became a hateful slur.  It can also happen slowly, as with “queer” and “gay” which held two meanings simultaneously in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The function of changing words, as previously mentioned, is to create a way to communicate a new concept.  When old words don’t do the job properly, new words are invented. Social background can show why certain words cropped up at certain times.  For example, increased conversation using “homosexual” led to the need for “lesbian.” Increased positivity and increased overall use of both words led to the need for more complex conversation, and “gay,” “bisexual,” and “faggot” were coined.  Negativity around the word “queer” led to its reclamation in the 1990’s.

Likewise, the words which are created can also say a lot about the culture in which they were created.  When one looks at words in context and understands the nuances of the way it was created to be used, it is clear the lexical gap they felt must be filled.  The lexical gaps are the concepts people were thinking but could not say, and felt they needed to say. This might be the need for positive identity which didn’t exist or the need to hurt and dehumanize another person.  In all these situations, much can be gleaned from the lexical gaps which were filled, in which order they were filled, and when they were filled.

Finally, though a great deal of this research has focused on the way in which language has been used, it is also important to analyze quantitatively the frequency of each word over time.  Comparative popularity of each word tells a lot about in what light queer topics were written about over time. In the 19th century, “sodomite” was written about approximately twenty times more frequently than was “tribade.”  This could reflect a preference for men in our writing and publication, or it could reflect relative apathy towards homosexuality in women as compared to in men.  By the turn of the century, “lesbian” began to refer to homosexuality in women. This terminology was approximately as popular as “sodomite,” and held less stigma than “tribade.”   In 1906, “homosexual” was used about 25 times more frequently than “sodomite,” replacing a derogatory word with a clinical one.

Although “transgender” only ever meant one definition, it was not a popular word for a long time.  It was, in 1931, 56 times less popular than “lesbian” and 1,086 times less popular than “homosexual.” So, although there was a word for it and the lexical gap had been filled, it’s not a subject about which people spoke.  By far, the dominant terminology was the clinical “homosexual” and that was, topically, as far as they would go in most publications.

In the 1970’s, “gay” had become about as popular as “homosexual” and by the 1980’s had become about 30% again more popular.  At the same time, “lesbian” was rising in popularity and was about two-thirds as popular as “homosexual” and about half as popular as “gay.” “Bisexual,” also newly coined to describe homosexuals, was 9 times less popular than “gay” in 1980 and 12 times less popular in 1990.  Finally, “faggot” was 38 times less likely than “gay” to show up in print” in 1980 when it began to be used as a hateful slur.

In 1995, many of these terms reached their peak popularity in comparison to the general vernacular.  At this point, “lesbian” was 58% as likely to appear compared to “gay.” Next most popular was “homosexual,” which was about 41% as likely to appear as compared to “gay.”  By the same comparison, “bisexual” and “queer” were each 12% as popular, “faggot” was just over 1% as popular, and “transgender” and “Sapphic” were each less than 1% as popular.  It was more normal in 1995 to see, in print, hateful slurs than it was to see reference to transgender individuals.

This study is important because people matter and because the words we use to describe them matter.  We can only communicate the ideas for which we have words. This means both that we cannot express concepts that aren’t summated in a word, but the reverse is also true.  It’s hard to grasp concepts for which we haven’t heard the words, even if they exist. If ideas remain unspoken and unwritten, it’s human identity that’s at stake. How can queer person think of themselves in a positive way if so many of the words that are used to label and describe them are connoted with negativity?  How can we think of the transgender spectrum complexly when it’s a topic that remains profoundly under explored in our literature and scholarship compared to other areas of LGBTQ publication and study? The human experience is infinitely complicated and language can not capture that infinite complexity. Despite this and because of this, it is important to use and to understand the words we have and to explore their connotations, build upon the lexical gaps when they are found, and continue to explore.  Human dignity is at stake.

Works (to be) cited;

Macroanalysis

Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites

The History of Walking and the Digital Turn

Speech Creates a Kind of Commitment; Queering Hebrew

  • Language with gender can become more queer by using it “incorrectly” to prove a point
    • Alternatively, in English we have words for all these concepts; we just have to use them.
    • A study of English queer words is a way to demonstrate
      • how aware people are of these concepts and
      • how they think about them

The Emergence of the Unmarked; Queer Theory, Language Ideology, and Formal Linguistics

  • 218; The theoretical assumptions of this language ideology have a long history of being linked to the broader ideas about how language is linked to ideas of national or ethnic identity.
  • 219; Queer theory askes how disciplinary perspectives might change if the focus of inquiry were shifted so that the traditionally marginalized became the theoretical center.
  • 216; queer theory emphasizes focuses on marginalized groups in order to uncover the normative forces that construct their marginalization…
  • 196; queer theory of language is very informal, and constantly questions the rules
    • It is, therefore, important to ask how has this change occurred over time?
    • How have the ways in which we’ve used words changed over time?
    • How has the popularity of certain words changed over time?
    • How often are we talking about these things and how are we talking about them?

Tribade

  • 1904; Crowssays of Sex; a Study in Eroto-pathology- Volume 2
    • “the arrival of a man imports a third element, whether the woman see one another without the knowledge of their lover or husband or whether the tribade imposes upon the lover or husband the presence of a woman friend for whom she retains a passionate affection.”
  • 1994; The Eighteenth Century Volume 35
    • “One of the, the tribade, made the medical books. The anatomist Duverney placed in the category of false hermaphorodite “girls who have a clitoris much larger and longer than normal and who abuse it…”
  • 1999; Invisible Relations: Representations of Female Intimacy in the Age…
    • “Representations of the Tribade in Libertine Literature At the same time that medical texts began to focus on female homosexuality through the figure of the hermaphrodite or the tribade…”
  • 2001; Sappho in Early Modern England; Female Same Sex Literary Erotics,…
    • “That tribade Philaenis sodomizes boys, and with mor range than a husband in his stiffened lust, she works eleven girls roughly every day…”
  • 2006; Trial of Flowers; a Novel of the City Imperishable
    • “Naturally, Ducote sent Imago to the Tribade first.”

Sodomite

  • 1810; The Holy Bible; Containing the Old & the New Testaments, with…
    • “nor a x sodomite of the sons of Israel…”
  • The Historical Gallery of Criminal Portraitures, Foreign and…
    • “wai a sodomite: he mentioned what he had heard…”
  • 1994; Homographesis; Essays in Gay Literature and Cultural Theory
    • “Sodomite’s tongue and the bourgeois body in eighteen century England.”
  • 1999; Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash; Priacy, Sexuality, and Masculine Identity
  • 2007; Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America
    • “A man’s sexual interest in other men was certainly part of the eighteenth-century understanding of the sodomite, but this was not equivalent to the pathologized innate sexual inclination of the nineteenth century homosexual.”

1895

Homosexual

  • 1895; The Journal of Comparative Neurology Volume 5
    • “Between the degraded homosexual and the low heterosexual there seems to be a sufficient distance, and yet they lie very close together. So also the homosexual of high worth and the heterosexual of equal rank come into very close relations and can hardly be distinguished.  The man who allows himself to be dominated by his sexuality and by that of others eis sexual before he is urbanistic or heterosexual.”
  • 1922; The Homosexual Neurosis
  • 1993; The Church and the Homosexual
  • 1996; The Homosexual(ity) of Law
  • 2001; Working Like a Homosexual; Camp, Capital, Cinema
  • 2006; Homosexual Behavior in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

1900

Lesbian

  • 1803; Female Biology; Or Memoriss of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of…
    • “After the death of her husband, Sappho devoted herself to letters, and undertook to inspire the Lesbian women with a taste for literature: many foreigners were, with her fair countrywomen, among her disciples.”
  • 1840; History of the literature in ancient Greece Volume 1
    • “The composition of verses in strophes is less frequent with Anacreon than with the Lesbian poets; and when he forms strophes, it often…”
  • 1899; Sappho, the Lesbian: A Monograph
    • “The Llesbian Eolians, in particular, never descended to the depths of what is so often involved in the word Orientalism…”
  • 1901; A Problem in Greek Ethics
  • Although this was the position assumed by philosophers, Lesbianpassion, as the Greeks called it, never obtained the same social sanction as boy-love. It is significant that Greek mythology offers no legends of the goddesses parallel to those which consecrated paiderastia among the male deities.
  • 1917; I Mary MacLane: A Diary of Human Days
    • “I am someway the Lesbian Woman.”
    • “The Llesbian sex-strain as an effect is reckoned a prenatal influence—and, as I conceive, it comes also of conglomerate incarnations and their reactions and…”
  • 1920; The American Journal of Urology and Sexology Volume 16
    • “Lesbian love passed from conquered Greece to victorious Rome and developed there extensively. The women addicted to these practices were known by the names of tribades, subigatrices, frictrices, etc.”
  • 1976; The Lavender Herring: Lesbian Essays from the Ladder
  • 1980; The Lesbian Community: With an Afterword
    • “To heterosexuals, because she is a lesbian, she is generally considered to be a negative influence on her own children: it is assumed that she will socialize them to be homosexual.”
  • 1980; Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience
  • 1983; Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality
  • 1988; Gay and Lesbian Identity: A Sociological Analysis
  • 1991; Inside/out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories
  • 1993; The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader
  • 1993; Critical Essays: Gay and Lesbian Writers of Color
  • 1995
    • The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Movement
    • The Gay & Lesbian Address Book
    • Lesbian Choices
    • Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities over the Lifespan: Psychological
    • Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays on Popular Culture
    • The Key to Everything: Classic Lesbian Love Poems
    • The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture
  • 1997; Lesbian and Gay Memphis: Building Communities Behind the Magnolia…
  • 1997; Sex and Sensibility: Stories of a Lesbian Generation
  • 2000; Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia
  • 2004; Lesbian Couples: A Guide to Creating Healthy Relationships
  • 2006; Lesbian for Newbies: The Highlighted Pocket Edition
  • 2008; The Fenway Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health
  • 2008; Gay, Lesbian, and Gransgender Clients: a Lawyer’s Guide
  • 2008; Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Popular Culture

1940

Transgender

  • 1940; Labor Relations Reporter Volume 7
    • “person’s being transgender, transsexual, and/or because of the person’s apparent gender (usually expressed through behavior, demeanor, and/or dress)
  • 1978; Penal Code
    • “The Legislature finds the problem of domestic violence in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community to be of serious and incrasing magnitude.”
  • 1994; Transgender Nation
  • 1994; Women in Management: Current Research Issues
    • “…utilized focus groups with transgender women and men and found that there are several categories of microaggressions that are directed towards transgender individuals.”
  • 1997; Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman
  • 1996; Lesbians Talk: Transgender
  • 1998-2005
  • 2005; Human Rights and Minority and Women’s: Transgender human rights
  • 2001; Transgender Politics: The Construction and Deconstruction of Binary…
  • 2001; Transgender Care: Recommended Guidelines, Practical Information, and…
    • “her or him, as well as the transgender partner…”
    • “Transgender individuals who have difficulty disclosing or feel the need for additional help communicating this important step…”
  • 2006
    • Transgender Rights
    • The Transgender Studies Reader
    • Transgender on Screen
    • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Aging: Research and Clinincal…
  • 2007
    • Transforming Gender: Transgender Practices of Identity, Intimacy, and…
    • Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category
    • Crossdressing in Context, Vol 2: Today’s Transgender Realities
      • “What does ‘transgender’ mean? The Short Answer.  ‘Transgender is a key term, one used increasingly often, but also one without a fixed meaning.”
    • 2008
      • The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals
      • Transgender Voices: Beyond Women and Men
      • Transgender Realities
      • Transgender History

1980

Bisexual

  • 1852; The Flora Homeopathica
    • “The first he terms Polygamia aaqualis, all the florets being equally fertile and bisexual…”
  • 1908; The Forest Trees of Travancore
    • “Flowers irregular, bisexual”
    • “Flowers bisexual or polygamo-dioecious”
  • 1980; A Revised Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon
    • “Flowers usually large, solitary, and axillary, sometimes in terminal racemes or panicles, regular bisexual, sometimes unisexual or polygamous, often bi-bracteolate.”
  • 1981; Sexual Meanings; The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality
    • “The gender revolution and the transition from bisexual horde to patrilocal bband…”
  • 1981; Aquatic and Wetland Plant of Southeastern United States: Dicotyledons
    • “Flowers short-stalked, borne singly and terminally on short branches of new growth; bisexual, about 3…”
  • 1989; The Bisexual Spouce; different dimensions in human sexuality
    • “What percentage of married men do you estimate are bisexual or homosexual?”
  • 1993; The Bisexual Option
  • 1994; The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Students’ Guide to Colleges
  • 1995; Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality
  • 1995; The Gay Teen: Educational Practice and Theory for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual…
  • 1997-1999
  • 1997Bisexual Imaginary: Representation, Identity and Desire
  • 1998; Not Just a Passing Phase: Social Work with Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual…
  • 1999; Bi Lives: Bisexual Women Tell Their Stories
  • 2000; The Man who Fell in Love with the Moon: A Novel
    • “…portrays the trials of Shed, a half-breed, bisexual boy who works at a Victorian whorehouse in the old West.”
  • 2002; Bisexual Spaces: A Geography of Sexuality and Gender
  • 2002; Humjinsi: A Resource Book on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Rights in India
  • 2001; Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities and Youth: Psychological…
  • 2004; Handbook of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Administration
  • 2007; Out in Psychology: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Perspectives
  • 2008; Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics

Gay

  • 1805; Gay’s Fables and other Poems
  • 1808; The Poetical Works of John Gay
    • “So may y a balls and gay assemblies grace…”
    • “Yet no red clouds, with golden borders gay…”
  • 1816; The Florist’s Manual; or Hints for the Construction of a Gay Flower Garden
  • 1836; Poems Grave and Gay
    • “give her but praise and folly, be idle, flippant, and gay…”
  • 1837; Tales for the Grave and the Gay
    • “…when he saw all beside gladsome and gay at Franchetour.”
  • 1853; Selections Grave and Gay: From Writings Published and Unpublished
  • 1961; The Gay Place
  • 1966; The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. The science of freedom
    • By Peter Gay
  • 1973; The Gay Liberation Book
  • 1974; The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs
  • 1977; Gaslight Gaieties: A Complete Gay Nineties Variety Show
  • 1984; Culture Clash; the Making of Gay Sensibility
  • 1989; Displacing Homophobia: Gay Male Perspectives in Literature and Culture
  • 1992; Acting Gay: Male Homosexuality in Modern Drama
  • 1996; Consumption and Identity at Work
    • By Paul du Gay
  • 1998; Social Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Reader
  • 2002; Who’s who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II
  • 2003; All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America

Faggot

  • 1801; A Collection of Acts and Records of Parliament: With Reports of
    • “in rows before it was made into faggot; or stacks of equal size or dimensions, pretending that it would be a great expence to him to make it into slacks, and then to tithe it.”
  • 1819; The Cyclopaedia; Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and…
    • “Faggot, in Agriculture, is a bundle of any sort of small wood tied up closely together by means of a with or other kind of ligature.”
  • 1823; Grose’s Classical Dictionary of Th Vulgar Tongue: Revised and…
    • “Faggot. A man hired at a muster to appear as a soldier.  To faggot, in the canting sense, means to bind: an allusion to the faggots made up by the woodmen, which are all bound.  Faggot the culls; bind the men.”
  • 1913; An Agricultural Faggot; A Collection of Papers on Agricultural Subjects
  • 1981; Down to Earth Sociology; 14th Edition: Introductory Readings…
    • “By the fourth grade, children, especially boys, have begun to use homophobic labels—“fag,” “faggot,” “queer,” as terms of insult, especially for marginal boys.”
  • 1982; The Batsford book of hand & machine knitted laces
    • “The majority of short row knitted lace endings use a vertical faggot pattern on one side edge of the lace…”
  • 1988; The Colored Museum
    • “Seems the liquor made his tongue real liberal and he decided he was gonna baptize me with the word “faggot” over and over. Well, he’s just going on and on with “faggot this” and “faggot that” all the while walking towards the broom closet to piss.”
  • 1990; Another Mother Tongue; Gay Words, Gay Worlds
    • “A Faggot is something that flames, a firestick.”
  • 1994; Four Short Plays by Lanford Wilson
    • “You. Are a faggot.  There is no question about it any more—you are definitely a faggot.  You’re funny but you’re a faggot.  You have been a faggot since you were four years old.  Three years old.”
  • 1999; That’s Mr. Faggot to You; Further Trials from My Queer Life

1990

Queer

  • 1865; Wonderful Adventures by Land and Sea of the Seven Queer Travelers…
  • 1874; Queer Folk: Seven Stories
    • “a quantity of Elves, and several other things and persons which any unprejudiced individual will at once allow to be queer enough to justify the iame, I have chosen.”
  • 1925; Works: Little Mr. Thimblefiner and his queer country
    • “The queer looking girl was running from the very queer looking boy, and both were laughing loudly.”
  • 1946; The Club of Queer Trades
    • “I believe, that the inquirer may find the offices of the Club of Queer Trades.”
  • 1989; Queer Chivalry; Medievalism and the Myth of White Masculinity in…
  • 1991; Queer Theory; lesbian and gay sexualities
  • 1993; Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video
  • 1995; Queer and Loathing; Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone
  • 1998; Queer Theory in Education
  • 2002; From Camp to Queer; Re-making the Australian Homosexual

Sapphic

  • 1812; Poetics; Or a Series of Poems and Disquisitions on Poetry
    • “I, therefore, try the strictest form of the Sapphic verse…”
  • 1823; History of Spanish and Portuguese Literature
    • “In his Sapphic verse the measure revolves into iambics; one of these Sapphic odes is, however, exquisitely beautiful.”
  • 1896; The Sapphic Stanza; A Tentitive Study in Greek Metrical, Tonal and…
  • 1989; Fictions of Sappho
    • “Sappho continues to accumulate exchange value (a value that translates into Sapphic fictions) for reasons that vary from period to period.”
  • 1991; Lump It or Leave It
    • “As I look around at today’s Sapphic scene, I find myself wonderinig why I ever got involved with women at all.”
  • 1997; Secret Sexualities; A Sourcebook of 17th and 18th Century Writing
    • “Sapphic.   Introduction.  Two pamphlets from the early seventeenth century gegin this comprehensive…”
  • 2000; The Illustrated Book of Sapphic Sex; A Discursive History of Lesbian…
  • 2001; Sappho in Early Modern England; Female Same-Sex Literary Erotics,…
  • 2004; Sapphic Primitivism; Productions of Race, Class, and sexuality in…
  • 2006; Sapphic Modernities: Sexuality, women and national culture

One Reply to “English Language Literature and the Making of Queer Linguistics, 1800-2008”

  1. I continue to think this is a rich and interesting topic. I very much enjoyed reading about your research here so far. Along with that, I think it is something that is significant enough that you could likely continue to work on this project and turn it into something that could ultimately be publishable.

    It would help the reader dig into your arguments if you worked in subheads and signposting. That is, have a bit of an intro, then provide a bit of a literature review or conceptual context for the project, then work through your analysis and discussion and then end with your conclusions. Similarly, it’s going to be important to weave in your references throughout the essay (particularly into your intro and lit review) so that you have a clearly supported line of argument that takes you to the analysis you have done.

    It seems like a major part of this analysis is what happens to words when they take on new meaning as derogatory terms (and in that process fall out of general usage in the corpus of English language books) and then how and when to they come to be appropriated back and emerge in usage again. Throughout, it’s important to stress how what you are analyzing in the Google books corpus is published books and not language use in general. To that end, I think your case nicely illustrates a general issue for how study of language use in published works tracks notions about appropriateness for use of various terms in a given historical context.

    Consider including an image of all the search terms together. That tends to be a better way to get the overall context of the trends in relationship to each other. Without that it tends to be difficult to parse the relative scale of the frequency of terms. I think it would also be valuable to think about doing more comparative analysis. That is, how do all the terms trend together or in opposition. What story does the overarching set of trends around these words tell? Further, are there some words that come into popularity more quickly than others? One related point on this, I did a search for hetrosexual in ngram and it looks like it follows the homosexual trend but in a lagging way. This seems to make sense, but it seems like something that would be valuable to include in the analysis. That is, it seems to suggest that heterosexuality as a concept is functionally lagging as a name for the assumed normative behavior.

    A smaller point, Google Ngram isn’t a “database of all English-language books” it’s a large enough sample of English language books that it allows one to make inferences about general trends in all English books. Look to the Guldi article that uses it as a source for language on how to phrase this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *