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Gayle, or Gail, is an English and Afrikaans-based gay argot or cant slang used primarily by English and Afrikaans-speaking homosexual men in urban communities of South Africa, and is similar in some respects to Polari in the United Kingdom, from which some lexical items have been borrowed. The equivalent language used by homosexual South African men who speak Bantu languages is called IsiNgqumo, and is based on a Nguni lexicon.[4][5][6]

RegionSouth Africa: mainly in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein, and Port Elizabeth
Native speakers
L2 speakers: 20,000
based on varying mixtures of English and Afrikaans, with similarity to Polari
Language codes
ISO 639-3gic
Beaulah Bar in De Waterkant, Cape Town, takes its name from the Gayle word for "beautiful".[3]

Gayle originally manifested as moffietaal (Afrikaans: literally, "homosexual language") in the drag culture of the Cape Coloured community in the 1950s. It permeated into white homosexual circles in the 1960s and became part of mainstream white gay culture.[4][5][6]

Besides a few core words borrowed from Polari (such as the word varda meaning "to see", itself a borrowing from Lingua Franca), most of Gayle's words are alliterative formations using women's names, such as Beulah for "beauty", Priscilla, meaning "police", and Hilda for "hideous". Men, especially other homosexual men, are often referred to by female pronouns in some circles, as is the custom among many homosexual countercultures throughout the world.[4][5][6]

Gayle arose for the same reason that most antilanguages develop in marginalised communities—to have a secret language in an oppressive society. However it also fulfilled other functions such as to "camp up" conversation, and provide entertainment in a subculture where verbal wit and repartee are highly valued.[4][5][6]


Gayle term English translation
Abigail abortion
Betty Bangles police
Betty Boems sex
Belinia beautiful, gorgeous
Beulah beautiful man, handsome man
cha cha palace discotheque or club
cilla cigarette
conch vagina
Dora drink or drunk
Doreen drunk
Dorette small drink
Great Dane large penis
Hilda ugly
Griselda hideous
Jella hurry up
Jessica jealous
KFC sex
Mitzi small
Moira music
Monica money
Olive attractive man
Petula Clark passed out, unconscious
Petunia to urinate
Priscilla police
Sheila shit
varda to look
Vera or Veronica vomit

Varda that Beulah! translates to "Look at that beautiful man!"[6]:23–24

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gayle at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Gail". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ de Bruyn, Pippa; Bain, Keith (2012). Frommer's South Africa. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 135. ISBN 9781118074787. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Cage, Ken (10 August 1999). "Gayle – Gay SA Slang". Q Online. Mail & Guardian. Archived from the original on 18 August 2000. Retrieved 18 August 2000. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  5. ^ a b c d Cage, Ken (1999). An investigation into the form and function of language used by gay men in South Africa (M.A. thesis). University of Johannesburg. Archived from the original on 25 June 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d e Cage, Ken; Evans, Moyra (2003). Gayle: The Language of Kinks and Queens: A History and Dictionary of Gay Language in South Africa. Houghton, South Africa: Jacana Media. ISBN 9781919931494. Retrieved 25 June 2014.