Introduction: start of Homolexis
HOMOLEXIS (opening paragraphs)
Sexual terms are inherently fascinating. Sex is one of humanity’s most intense experiences and the ways of discussing it range from outright crudity through clinical detachment to a decorum sometimes marked by timidity and reticence.
This study addresses the character and historical development of the body of words used for homosexuality—-the homolexis or homolexicon-—in the five major Western European languages, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Technically, the individual words are termed homolexemes. A number of valuable studies have been published for the five languages individually. Yet as far as I know, a broader, comparative approach has not been previously attempted. Given the limitations of my own knowledge it has not been feasible to treat the languages with uniform depth. The English tongue will remain the base.
Readers should not be surprised to find that some favorite term is lacking, for the coverage is illustrative rather than exhaustive. For example, one scholar has collected more than 150 different instances of expressions employing “queen” as the second element (drag queen, opera queen, etc.). Only a few of these will be noticed here. The purpose is to determine the principles governing the appearance, survival, and function of words. To achieve this goal a representative sample suffices.
Moreover, even dictionaries that attempt to be comprehensive must ultimately fail in the realm of sexual terminology, because the vocabulary continues to grow and change. That is particularly true for homosexuality. Equipped with various survival skills, gay people tend to be creative with language. This knack engenders a continuing stream of ad hoc expressions. A few of these survive; most do not. Moreover, because of long-standing prejudice and discrimination, the host society has generated a disconcertingly large body of terms of disparagement.