Is That Really “So Gay”?

Over the past few years, “that’s so gay” has become a popular phrase for something bad or negative. Most of the people using this phrase are young people, and the phrase is applied to many things, even so crazy as everyday objects or actions. The growing popularity of the phrase has caused controversy about the use of such words. Some believe that words like “that’s so gay”, “no homo”, and others of the kind bring on homophobic ideas, and can be considered very  offensive. Other  people believe that it’s just a childish joke, and has no harmful intentions.

Many have spoken out about the negative repercussions of the use of such language. The main reason is the history of homophobic uses of words like “that’s so gay”. There have been past cases of bullying with teens calling members LGBT community “gay” with a very negative connotation. With how much injustice these kids can face, phrases like this are as bad as a punch. And the popularity of the words doesn’t help. A website called records how many times phrases such as “f****t”, “no homo”, “so gay”, and “d**e” are used daily, weekly, and monthly on Twitter. In just one day, the word “f****t” was used over 8,000 times, over 59,000 times in just a week, and almost 34 million times since the creation of the website in July of 2012. The website also publishes the tweets with these words as they come in, and the rate is astonishing. This popularity of such sensitive words makes the situation so much worse and harder to deal with, because it’s hard to reach this many people and even try to change their minds and attitudes.

Some people, however, do not find anything offensive in the words. Mark McCormack, author and Professor of Sociology at Durham University, conducted a study on how teens use these words and phrases, and what meanings they seek behind the words. McCormack interviewed 40 gay youth from four universities to find out what the youth really is saying with these words. This investigation of his was inspired by another set of observations he had made with  a group of straight male students at universities. All the straight students in this research were friends with openly gay individuals, supported gay rights, and were against homophobia. However, McCormack observed several of them still saying “that’s so gay” on numerous occasions. His results show that the students who used these terms had no homophobic intent behind them. Many just used the phrase to describe something bad. McCormack also pointed out that the Australian Journal of Linguistics backed up these views. This journal describes the different meanings of the word, and which age group use the word in which way and why. Their studies show that mostly young people use the “stupid, lame, and boring” meaning of “gay”, and it is most often directed towards inanimate objects. Therefore, McCormack states, the context in which the word is used is very important, more than the word of user of the word itself.

Now, what’s my opinion? Well, there’s always more than one side to a story. Those who state that these words should not be used at all have a good point – why use words that bring up sensitive emotions, when there are so many others that don’t? However, I do see McCormack’s perspective. No word itself can do anything, it is the connotation and meaning of the word that does the harm. Which means that it does depend on the context of the situation and word use to determine whether the words bring on homophobic ideas.

The English language has many words – in fact, the Oxford Dictionary states that there are at least 171,476 words in current use, with 47,156 obsolete, or no longer used, words. With this many choices, why choose “gay”?