[ kweer ]
/ kwɪər /
Save This Word!

usage alert about queer

When referring to LGBT+ identities, the label queer can be offensive and painful or embraced and affirming—it all depends on the speaker’s identity, relationship to the subject, and the context of use. In-group vocabulary is not always appropriate for use by others, and it is best to refer to a person by whatever term they have told you they prefer.
adjective, queer·er, queer·est.
verb (used with object)
Often Disparaging and Offensive. (The noun “a queer” is often used with disparaging intent and considered offensive even among those who approve of the corresponding adjective “queer.” The plural “queers” is less likely to offend than the singular “a queer.”)
  1. a gay or lesbian person.
  2. a person whose sexual orientation or gender identity falls outside the heterosexual mainstream or the gender binary.
Slang. counterfeit money.
There are grammar debates that never die; and the ones highlighted in the questions in this quiz are sure to rile everyone up once again. Do you know how to answer the questions that cause some of the greatest grammar debates?
Question 1 of 7
Which sentence is correct?

Idioms about queer

    queer the pitch, British Informal. to spoil the chances of success.

Origin of queer

First recorded in 1500–10; perhaps from German quer “oblique, cross, adverse”

usage note for queer

Historically, queer has meant “strange” in a way that departs from convention. Since the early 20th century, it has also had the meaning “gay or lesbian,” and for much of the time has been used with disparaging intent and perceived as insulting. Since the 1980s, queer has increasingly been adopted especially among younger members of the gay and lesbian community as a positive term of self-reference. However, the term is not universally accepted within the LGBT community, and might still be viewed by some as degrading.
Queer is also a term used by activists and academics: queer politics; scholars of queer literature. The term has more recently come to include any person whose sexuality or gender identity falls outside the heterosexual norm or the gender binary. A person identifying as queer can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, gender-fluid, etc., and the use of queer allows for the expression of LGBTQ community membership without requiring any specific label.
More broadly, within academia, “to queer” can even refer to the act of interpreting a text using any non-normative or marginalized perspective. This sense plays with the dual meaning of queer as referring to people whose genders and sexualities have been marginalized, and as referring to something that is unusual or unconventional. In this sense, introducing the perspectives of people of color or people with disabilities would also be considered queering a text in literary or cultural criticism.

synonym study for queer

1. See strange.


queer·ly, adverbqueer·ness, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does queer mean?

While queer has historically meant “strange” or “odd,” the word is more often used as a slur against—but also since reclaimed as a self-identifier—for non-heterosexual or non-cisgender people.

Content warning: this article contains offensive and sensitive content.

Where did the term queer come from?

Queer is recorded in Scottish in the 16th century, when it meant “strange” or “eccentric,” possibly related to the German quer (“perverse” or “odd”).

At least by the late 1800s, queer was deployed as a derogatory term for an effeminate or gay men. One example comes from a letter written in 1894 from the Marquess of Queensberry to his son, Lord Alfred Douglas, in which he insults Lord Roseberry, the presumed lover of his late son Francis, as a “snob queer.” The Marquess’s homophobia ultimately led to the prosecution and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde, as well.

Early on, queer was being used as a modifier as well, seen in a 1914 Los Angeles Times article that described a club as where “the ‘queer’ people have a good time.”

In the late 1980s, writers, scholars, and activists in the LGBT community began advocating for a re-appropriation of the word queer. In 1990, this effort focused on queer as a collective term for gay and lesbian people. Queer was seen as a way to refer to gay and lesbian people without being gender-essentialist or causing divisions within the community. The queer movement was especially focused on rejecting the so-called assimilationist stances of many white folks in the gay community, criticized for their desire to be fully included in mainstream institutions like the army and marriage.

Later in the 1990s, those not only with alternative sexual orientations but also alternative gender orientations began to refer to themselves as genderqueer. GenderPAC founder Riki Anne Wilchins defined the term in a transgender newsletter in spring 1995: “It’s about all of us who are genderqueer: diesel dykes and stone butches, leatherqueens and radical fairies, nelly fags, crossdressers, intersexed, transsexuals…and those of us whose gender expressions are so complex they haven’t even been named yet.”

How to use the term queer

The term queer to refer to non-cishet people has spread since the 1990s—reaffirming if used as a self-identifier among queer people but extremely offensive if used against them.

In 1991, Queer Theory—a subset of gender and culture studies—made its academic debut. In 1999, the TV show Queer as Folk aired in the UK and portrayed the everyday life of gay men—the American version was a hit across the pond the following year. In 2003, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a reality TV show where gay men give straight men a makeover, became a huge hit too. It was even rebooted in 2018 on Netflix as Queer Eye.

For some in the LGBTQ community, queer is still offensive because some people still use queer as an anti-gay or anti-trans slur. For an example of how queer gets used in a derogatory sense (illustrating why using queer as a slur is so hurtful), look no further than the schoolyard game Smear the Queer, a variation of dodgeball where one student is the queer who gets “stoned” with balls.

The fraught history of the term queer to insult non-cishet people can cause controversy even when organizations are trying to be inclusive of LGBTQ identities. For example, a man in his 60s applying for a job at Colorado College in 2013 filed a formal complaint with the state when the application gave him the option to mark his gender identity as queer—something that reminded him of being evicted and losing his job for being gay.

The Q in LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) is taken to stand for queer but also questioning. The debate continues, although both interpretations are generally accepted.

In the UK, queer is still used in some situations to mean “strange” or “odd” without any relation to sexual or gender identity, particularly in the expression “don’t be queer,” or “don’t act strange.” A Brit might get some sour looks using language like that in the U.S., though.

More examples of queer:

“The video depicts a relationship between two queer women, and eventually, the destruction of said relationship. The couple has a funeral of sorts for their time together.”
—Elana Rubin, Out, July 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use queer in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for queer

/ (kwɪə) /

informal, taboo a homosexual, usually a male
verb (tr) informal
to spoil or thwart (esp in the phrase queer someone's pitch)
to put in a difficult or dangerous position

Derived forms of queer

queerish, adjectivequeerly, adverbqueerness, noun

Word Origin for queer

C16: perhaps from German quer oblique, ultimately from Old High German twērh

usage for queer

Although the term queer meaning homosexual is still considered highly offensive when used by non-homosexuals, it is often used by homosexuals themselves as a positive term, as in queer politics, queer cinema
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