The Queen Bee called my attention to a language I had never heard of, called Polari. It’s actually more of an argot, being standard English with replacements (mostly Italian, but also Romanes, Yiddish, and Cockney slang) for many words; it has passed from theatrical usage into the (English) gay community, and some words have entered more general speech (ponce, a pimp; savvy, to know, understand; scarper, to run away). Fortunately, I didn’t have to go far to learn more about it, since the always interesting Desbladet recently did a post on the subject, linking to a detailed World Wide Words article, the scripts from the “Julian and Sandy” skits on Kenneth Horne’s Round The Horne show from the ’60s, and (this is truly remarkable) a Polari version of the King James Bible:

1 In the beginning Gloria created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was nanti form, and void; and munge was upon the eke of the deep. And the nanti lucoddy of Gloria trolled upon the eke of the aquas.
3 And Gloria cackled, Let there be sparkle: and there was sparkle.
4 And Gloria vardad the sparkle, that it was bona: and Gloria divided the sparkle from the munge.
5 And Gloria screeched the sparkle Day, and the munge he screeched nochy. And the bijou nochy and the morning were the una day.

Amazing stuff. So thanks, qB, it’s fantabulosa!

Addendum. Joseph Steelman has brought to my attention another good Polari link, Chris Denning’s page.


  1. Dividing the sparkle from the munge – that’s what it’s all about.

  2. Does this variety have an actually language community? or is it a pidgin of some sort?

  3. Is there an Anthony Burgess connection? This sounds more than vaguely Clockwork Orange.

  4. Morrissey’s ‘Piccadilly Palare’ –
    And a couple of his comments about it –

  5. What is interesting about Polari is that the latin elements (aqua, palare, etc…) apparently preserve wordfs from the now obsolete Lingua Franca of North Africa. Apparently gay Londoners used to pick up Morrocan sailors at the docks, and picked up and thus preserved some of the old Linqua Franca.

  6. The title of Morrissey’s “Bona Drag” is Polari (Palare) for nice clothes, too.

  7. “Is there an Anthony Burgess connection? This sounds more than vaguely Clockwork Orange.”

    I doubt it. The language in A Clockwork Orange is a mix of Cockney and Russian.

  8. Also, as a side note: Danny the Street in Grant Morrison’s deliciously dotty run on Doom Patrol (best superhero comics of the ’90s, or at least way the fuck up there) spoke Palare/Polari, by rearranging the letters of shop window signs and blowing word-smoke from chimneys and suchlike.

    It’s where I first heard of it, anyway.

  9. The only really Burgessy word here is “nochy,” which I recognize as Slavic. “Screech” intrigues me. It’s like no word meaning “to name” or “to call” I can think of, though I can’t say I know much Romanes or Yiddish. Is it actually from the English, but with a somewhat changed meaning?

  10. Yeah, my guess would be English “screech” used in a generalized sense.

  11. Alon Lischinsky says

    Ian McDonald’s excellent YA sci-fi series Everness has the Airish, airship sailors in a dieselpunk alternate Earth, speaking very accurate Polari.

    I suppose very few in the series’ intended audience would be aware of the language’s historical subsistence as gay argot.

  12. To continue the revival of this thread, “nochy” could also, and perhaps more plausibly, be Spanish.

  13. Modern Scots, or some varieties at least, use cry for ‘call’ (by the name of). One of the DSL’s quotations, from 1931, is “I nuvver tasted that kin’ o’ cake afore: whut dae ye cry it?” Perhaps screech is a parallel.

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