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[gey] /geɪ/
adjective, gayer, gayest.
of, relating to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or persons of one's own sex; homosexual:
a gay couple.
Antonyms: straight.
of, indicating, or supporting homosexual interests or issues:
a gay organization.
Slang: Often Disparaging and Offensive. awkward, stupid, or bad; lame:
This game is boring and really, really gay.
Slang. inappropriately forward or bold; overly familiar; reckless:
George got gay at the Christmas party and suddenly swept his boss's wife onto the dance floor.
Older Use. having or showing a merry, lively mood:
gay spirits; gay music.
Older Use. bright or showy:
gay colors; gay ornaments.
Older Use. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures:
a gay social season; the Gay Nineties.
Older Use. sexually unrestrained; having loose morals: In the 1930s movie, the baron is referred to as “a gay old rogue with an eye for the ladies.”.
  1. (used especially of women and especially in poetry) beautiful, lofty, noble, or excellent:
    The learned man hath got the lady gay.
  2. excellent; top-notch:
    a gay and lofty mind.
Sometimes Offensive. a homosexual person, especially a male.
in a gay manner.
Origin of gay
1275-1325; Middle English gai < Old French < Germanic; compare Old High German gāhi ‘fast, sudden’
Related forms
gayness, noun
nongay, adjective
quasi-gay, adjective
Usage note
The meaning “homosexual” for the word gay has become so prevalent that people hesitate to use the term in its original senses of “merry, lively” and “bright or showy.” But the word's association with sexuality is not new. The word gay has had various senses dealing with sexual conduct since the 17th century. A gay woman was a prostitute, a gay man a womanizer, a gay house a brothel. This sexual world included homosexuals too, and gay as an adjective meaning “homosexual” goes back at least to the late 1930s. After World War II, as social attitudes toward sexuality began to change, gay was applied openly by homosexuals to themselves, first as an adjective and later as a noun. It is no longer considered slang. Today, the noun often designates only a male homosexual and is usually used as a collective plural: gays and lesbians . Usage as a singular noun is uncommon and is sometimes perceived as insulting: He came out as a gay.
In contrast, gay in the sense “awkward, stupid, or bad” is often used with disparaging intent and perceived as insulting to gay people. Though some have argued that this sense is independent of the “homosexual” sense, and therefore not homophobic, the argument is weakened by the fact that “homosexual” has long been the dominant meaning of gay, and thus permeates its other usages. See also homosexual.


[gey] /geɪ/
John, 1685–1732, English poet and dramatist.
a female or male given name. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for gay
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Once it was that he had felt a sudden great longing for the life of a gay city.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • He broke away from her with a gay laugh, and lit a cigarette.

    Viviette William J. Locke
  • Viviette, with a gay laugh, took up her position on the spot to which he pointed.

    Viviette William J. Locke
  • And I've been thinking about you just cantering through wild, gay adventures.

    Way of the Lawless Max Brand
  • All men—Spenser as well as Jonson—found him gentle and witty, gay and generous.

    The Man Shakespeare Frank Harris
British Dictionary definitions for gay


  1. homosexual
  2. of or for homosexuals: a gay club
  1. carefree and merry: a gay temperament
  2. brightly coloured; brilliant: a gay hat
  3. given to pleasure, esp in social entertainment: a gay life
a homosexual
Derived Forms
gayness, noun
Usage note
Gayness is the word used to refer to homosexuality. The noun which refers to being carefree and merry is gaiety
Word Origin
C13: from Old French gai, from Old Provençal, of Germanic origin


John. 1685–1732, English poet and dramatist; author of The Beggar's Opera (1728)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for gay

late 14c., "full of joy, merry; light-hearted, carefree;" also "wanton, lewd, lascivious" (late 12c. as a surname, Philippus de Gay), from Old French gai "joyful, happy; pleasant, agreeably charming; forward, pert" (12c.; cf. Old Spanish gayo, Portuguese gaio, Italian gajo, probably French loan-words). Ultimate origin disputed; perhaps from Frankish *gahi (cf. Old High German wahi "pretty"), though not all etymologists accept this. Meaning "stately and beautiful; splendid and showily dressed" is from early 14c. The word gay by the 1890s had an overall tinge of promiscuity -- a gay house was a brothel. The suggestion of immorality in the word can be traced back at least to the 1630s, if not to Chaucer:

But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay
Whan that he wolde han my bele chose.
Slang meaning "homosexual" (adj.) begins to appear in psychological writing late 1940s, evidently picked up from gay slang and not always easily distinguished from the older sense:
After discharge A.Z. lived for some time at home. He was not happy at the farm and went to a Western city where he associated with a homosexual crowd, being "gay," and wearing female clothes and makeup. He always wished others would make advances to him. ["Rorschach Research Exchange and Journal of Projective Techniques," 1947, p.240]
The association with (male) homosexuality likely got a boost from the term gay cat, used as far back as 1893 in American English for "young hobo," one who is new on the road, also one who sometimes does jobs.
"A Gay Cat," said he, "is a loafing laborer, who works maybe a week, gets his wages and vagabonds about hunting for another 'pick and shovel' job. Do you want to know where they got their monica (nickname) 'Gay Cat'? See, Kid, cats sneak about and scratch immediately after chumming with you and then get gay (fresh). That's why we call them 'Gay Cats'." [Leon Ray Livingston ("America's Most Celebrated Tramp"), "Life and Adventures of A-no. 1," 1910]
Quoting a tramp named Frenchy, who might not have known the origin. Gay cats were severely and cruelly abused by "real" tramps and bums, who considered them "an inferior order of beings who begs of and otherwise preys upon the bum -- as it were a jackal following up the king of beasts" [Prof. John J. McCook, "Tramps," in "The Public Treatment of Pauperism," 1893], but some accounts report certain older tramps would dominate a gay cat and employ him as a sort of slave. In "Sociology and Social Research" (1932-33) a paragraph on the "gay cat" phenomenon notes, "Homosexual practices are more common than rare in this group," and gey cat "homosexual boy" is attested in N. Erskine's 1933 dictionary of "Underworld & Prison Slang" (gey is a Scottish variant of gay).

The "Dictionary of American Slang" reports that gay (adj.) was used by homosexuals, among themselves, in this sense since at least 1920. Rawson ["Wicked Words"] notes a male prostitute using gay in reference to male homosexuals (but also to female prostitutes) in London's notorious Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889. Ayto ["20th Century Words"] calls attention to the ambiguous use of the word in the 1868 song "The Gay Young Clerk in the Dry Goods Store," by U.S. female impersonator Will S. Hays, but the word evidently was not popularly felt in this sense by wider society until the 1950s at the earliest.
"Gay" (or "gai") is now widely used in French, Dutch, Danish, Japanese, Swedish, and Catalan with the same sense as the English. It is coming into use in Germany and among the English-speaking upper classes of many cosmopolitan areas in other countries. [John Boswell, "Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality," 1980]
Gay as a noun meaning "a (usually male) homosexual" is attested from 1971; in Middle English it meant "excellent person, noble lady, gallant knight," also "something gay or bright; an ornament or badge" (c.1400). As a slang word meaning "bad, inferior, undesirable," from 2000.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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gay in Medicine

gay (gā)
Relating to a homosexual or the lifestyle thereof. n.
A homosexual, especially male.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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gay in Culture

gay definition

Descriptive term for homosexuals.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for gay



  1. Homosexual; homoerotic: gay men and women/ gay attitudes (1920s+ Homosexuals)
  2. Intended for or used by homosexuals: gay bar/ gay movies (1920+ Homosexuals)
  3. Ugly; corny, weird: The clarinet player looked totally gay in his USC band uniform (1980s+ Students)


A male homosexual or a lesbian •Widely used by heterosexuals in preference to pejorative terms: a hideaway for live-together couples and middle-aged gays (1920s+ Homosexuals)

[perhaps by extension fr earlier British gay, ''leading a whore's life'']

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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