Learn These Shady Polari Phrases During Quarantine, You Cackling Alice!

Learn These Shady Polari Phrases During Quarantine, You Cackling Alice!

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Polari is a form of British gay slang that gay men used before Britain legalized homosexuality in 1967. Although it derives from 19th century among theater folk, sailors, showmen and criminals, 20th-century gay men used it as a way to discuss their lives at a time when being gay could get you fired, thrown in jail and chemically castrated.

We’ve covered Polari’s history and use in pop-culture before, but we secretly want gay and bi people to start using it again, so we’ve made a small list of 10 useful Polari phrases that still apply to everyday situations. Before we share them with you, here’s a few notes:

First off, these phrases below are not always kind. Because Polari provided a way to gossip and talk trash about people’s appearances and sex lives, our phrases are a bit backhanded. But we’ve also thrown in some compliments to show that Polari isn’t just for mean girls.

Second, in almost all our phrases, “she” means “he.” Polari often switches male pronouns for female ones the same way that it often uses female versions of men’s names (like Pauline instead of Paul).

Lastly, we don’t actually expect you to memorize and use all these Polari phrases in public —  most people would have no idea what you were saying even if you did. But you can pick out key phrases and sprinkle them into your speech to sound classically smart and shady in the old gay way.

Here are the phrases:

1. Every time she vardas a dolly basket, goes meshigener for cottaging. 

Every time he sees a nice bulge, he goes crazy for public sex.

2. Oh, she’ll plate any carts whether the omi is dolly or meese.

Oh, he’ll fellate any penis whether the man is pretty or ugly.

3. I’m not into palone-omees because I’m not bibi, but anyone with ogles can varda that she’s got a bona bod.

I’m not into lesbians because I’m not bisexual, but anyone with eyes can see that she’s got a nice body.

4. I’ve nanti dinarly; park me some handbag for another buvare.

I’ve got no money. Give me some money for another drink.

5. Mais oui ducky! Let’s nish the chat and go troll for rough trade … just gardy loo for chickens and don’t blag an orderly daughter!

Oh yes! Let’s stop talking and go walking for a working-class sex partner … just watch out for underage men and don’t pick up a cop!

6. Everyone thinks that auntie is a total fruit, but her gildy clobber makes me think she’s a duchess.

Everyone thinks that older gay man is a total old queen, but his nice clothes make me think he’s a rich gay man.

7. I don’t mean to cackle, but he’s not manly Alice. When I first varda-ed at her mince at the sweat chovey, I thought, “She’s mauve.” 

I don’t mean to gossip, but he’s not a masculine gay man. When I first looked at his effeminate walk at the gym, I thought, “He’s someone who appears to be gay.”

8. As an omi, he’s naff. But in drag, she’s fantabulosa! She titivates with fortuni slap, zhooshes up a switch and is one hell of a hoofer.

As a man, he’s dull. But in women’s clothes, he’s fabulous! She makes herself look great with gorgeous makeup, styles up a wig and is one hell of a dancer.

9. And no flies! It’s so bona to vada you! Your lovely eek and your riah! Sharda that we don’t palare more often!

Honestly! It’s so good to see you. Your lovely face and hair! What a shame that we don’t talk more often!

10. I’ve nanti jarry, nante latty and what’s worse, nante doss. I’m basically living off the national handbag — I might as well become a Dilly boy.

I’ve no food, no place to live and what’s worse, no bed. I’m basically living on welfare — I might as well become a male sex worker.

And if you’d like to learn more about Polari’s history, you can also read a good overview here and here.


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