Gay History: How Bona To Vada Your Eek! Polari – The Gay Lingo

The most fascinating aspect of Polari isn’t so much what we no longer use, as how much we still use both on the scene, and in everyday slang.

From Wikipedia

Polari (or alternatively Parlare, Parlary, Palare, Palarie, Palari; from Italian parlare, “to talk”) is a form of cant slang used in Britain by actors, circus and fairground showmen, merchant navy sailors, criminals, prostitutes, and the gay subculture. There is some debate about its origins,[3] but it can be traced back to at least the nineteenth century and possibly the sixteenth century.[4] There is a long-standing connection with Punch and Judy street puppet performers who traditionally used Polari to converse.[5]

Description

Polari is a mixture of Romance (Italian[6] or Mediterranean Lingua Franca), Romani, London slang,[6] backslang, rhyming slang, sailor slang, and thieves’ cant. Later it expanded to contain words from the Yiddish language and from 1960s drug users. It was a constantly developing form of language, with a small core lexicon of about 20 words (including bona (good [7]), ajax (nearby), eek (face), cod (naff, vile), naff (bad, drab), lattie (room, house, flat), nanti (not, no), omi (man), palone (woman), riah (hair), zhoosh (tjuz) (smarten up, stylize), TBH (To Be Had, sexually accessible), trade (sex), vada (see)), and over 500 other lesser-known words.[8] According to a Channel 4 television documentary,[which?] there was once (in London) an “East End” version which stressed Cockney rhyming slang and a “West End” version which stressed theatrical and Classical influences. There was some interchange between the two.

Usage

Polari was used in London fishmarkets, the theatre, fairgrounds and circuses, hence the many borrowings from Romani. As many homosexual men worked in theatrical entertainment it was also used among the gay subculture, at a time when homosexual activity was illegal, to disguise homosexuals from hostile outsiders and undercover policemen. It was also used extensively in the British Merchant Navy, where many gay men joined ocean liners and cruise ships as waiters, stewards and entertainers.[9] On one hand, it would be used as a means of cover to allow gay subjects to be discussed aloud without being understood; on the other hand, it was also used by some, particularly the most visibly camp and effeminate, as a further way of asserting their identity.[citation needed]
The almost identical Parlyaree has been spoken in fairgrounds since at least the seventeenth century[10] and continues to be used by show travellers in England and Scotland. As theatrical booths, circus acts and menageries were once a common part of European fairs it is likely that the roots of Polari/Parlyaree lie in the period before both theatre and circus became independent of the fairgrounds. The Parlyaree spoken on fairgrounds tends to borrow much more from Romany, as well as other languages and argots spoken by travelling people, such as cant and backslang.
Henry Mayhew gave a verbatim account of Polari as part of an interview with a Punch and Judy showman in the 1850s. The discussion he recorded references the arrival of Punch in England, crediting these early shows to a performer from Italy called Porcini (see also John Payne Collier’s account of Porsini—Payne Collier calls him Porchini—in Punch and Judy).[11] Mayhew provides the following:

Punch Talk
“‘Bona Parle’ means language; name of patter. ‘Yeute munjare’ – no food. ‘Yeute lente’ – no bed. ‘Yeute bivare’ – no drink. I’ve ‘yeute munjare,’ and ‘yeute bivare,’ and, what’s worse, ‘yeute lente.’ This is better than the costers’ talk, because that ain’t no slang and all, and this is a broken Italian, and much higher than the costers’ lingo. We know what o’clock it is, besides.”[5]

There are additional accounts of particular words that relate to puppet performance: “‘Slumarys’ – figures, frame, scenes, properties. ‘Slum’ – call, or unknown tongue”[5] (“unknown” is a reference to the “swazzle”, a voice modifier used by Punch performers, the structure of which was a longstanding trade secret).
There are many sources of polari lexicons or “dictionaries” online, most of which are random collections with little or no research, rather than a descriptive list of terms in use.

Decline in use

Polari had begun to fall into disuse amongst the gay subculture by the late 1960s. The popularity of the Julian and Sandy characters played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams ensured that some of this secret language became public property,[12] and the gay liberationists of the 1970s viewed it as rather degrading and divisive as it was often used to gossip about, or criticise, others, as well as to discuss sexual exploits. In addition, the need for a secret subculture code declined with the legalisation of adult homosexual acts in England and Wales in 1967.

In popular culture

Polari was popularised in the 1960s on the popular BBC radio show Round the Horne starring Kenneth Horne. Camp Polari-speaking characters Julian and Sandy were played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams.[12]
In the first series of British comedians’ panel television series Jokers Wild (1969), comedian Ray Martine is asked to explain the term palone (woman), which he used while telling a joke. In response to the definition, programme presenter Barry Cryer refers to Martine as a bona omi (good man).
Jason King star Peter Wyngarde recorded a self-titled album in 1970 which contained the song “Hippie and the Skinhead” about Billy the “queer sexy hippie” “trolling the Dilly”.
In the long running BBC Programme Doctor Who, in the episode “Carnival of Monsters”, Vorg, a showman, believing The Doctor to be one himself, attempts to converse with him in Polari. The Doctor states that he doesn’t understand him.[13]
In 2015, filmmakers Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston made a short film entirely in Polari, entitled “Putting on the Dish”.[14]

The lyrics to David Bowie’s 2016 song “Girl Loves Me” consist chiefly of a blend of Polari and Nadsat slang.
Use today

 

Bona Togs clothes shop
 

Since the mid-1990s, with the redistribution of cassettes and CDs of Round The Horne, and with increasing academic interest, Polari has undergone something of a revival. New words are being invented and updated to refer to more recent cultural concepts.[citation needed]

  • In 1990, Morrissey titled an album Bona Drag – Polari for “nice outfit” – and the single “Piccadilly Palare”.
  • Also in 1990, comic book writer Grant Morrison created the Polari-speaking character Danny the Street (based on Danny La Rue), a sentient transvestite street, for the comic Doom Patrol.
  • The 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, which chronicles a fictional retelling of the rise and fall of glam rock, contains a flashback to 1970 in which a group of characters converse in Polari, while their words are subtitled.
  • In 2002, two books on Polari were published, Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men, and Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang (both by Paul Baker). Also in 2002, hip hop artist Juha released an album called Polari, with the chorus of the title song written entirely in the slang.
  • Characters in Will Self’s story Foie Humain, the first part of Liver, use Polari.
  • Comedians Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary, David Walliams, and Matt Lucas incorporate Polari in their comedy routines, as did Rik Mayall.[citation needed]
  • In 2012, artists Jez Dolan and Joseph Richardson created an iPhone app which makes available the Polari lexicon and comprehensive list of etymologies.[15][16]

Entry into standard English

A number of words from Polari have entered mainstream slang.
The Polari word naff, meaning inferior or tacky, has an uncertain etymology. Michael Quinion states that it is probably from the sixteenth-century Italian word gnaffa, meaning “a despicable person”.[17] There are a number of folk etymologies, many based on acronyms—Not Available For Fucking, Normal As Fuck—though these are backronyms. More likely etymologies include northern UK dialect naffhead, naffin, or naffy, a simpleton or blockhead; niffy-naffy, inconsequential, stupid, or Scots nyaff, a term of contempt for any unpleasant or objectionable person. An alternative etymology may lie in the Romany naflo, itself rooted in násfalo, meaning ill. The phrase “naff off” was used euphemistically in place of “fuck off” along with the intensifier “naffing” in Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse (1959).[18] Usage of “naff” increased in the 1970s when television sitcom Porridge employed it as an alternative to expletives which were not considered broadcastable at the time.[17] Princess Anne famously told a reporter, “Why don’t you just naff off” at the Badminton horse trials in April 1982.[19]
“Zhoosh” (/ˈʒʊʃ/, /ˈʒuːʃ/ or /ˈʒʊʒ/[20]) (generally pronounced “zhuzh” with the vowel sound of “hood”) meaning to smarten up, style or improve something, became commonplace more recently, having been used in the 2003 United States TV series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and What Not to Wear.

Polari glossary

Word Definition

acdc, bibi- bisexual[21]

ajax – nearby (shortened form of “adjacent to”)[21]

alamo! – they’re attractive! (via acronym “LMO” meaning “Lick Me Out!)[22]

aunt nell listen![23]

aunt nells – ears[24]

aunt nelly fakes – earrings[25]

aunt nell danglers – earrings[citation needed]

barney – a fight[26]

basket- the bulge of male genitalia through clothes[citation needed]

bat, batts, bates – shoes[26]

bitch – effeminate or passive gay man

bijou – small/little (means “jewel” in French)[27]

blag-, pick up[28]

blue -,code word for “homosexual”[citation needed]

bod – body[citation needed]

bona – good[29]

bona nochy – goodnight (from Italian – buona notte)[23]

bonaroo – wonderful, excellent[citation needed]

bungery – pub, this comes from bung.[citation needed]

butch -,masculine; masculine lesbian[30]

buvare – a drink; something drinkable (from Italian – bere or old-fashioned Italian – bevere or Lingua Franca bevire)[30]

cackle – talk/gossip[31]

camp – effeminate (possibly from Italian campare “exaggerate, make stand out”)

capello, capella, capelli, kapella – hat (from Italian, also Greek – cappello)[31]

carsey, karsey, khazi – toilet[31]

cartes – penis (from Italian – cazzo)[32]

cats – trousers[31]

charper – to search or to look (from Italian – acchiappare – to catch)[33]

charpering omi -,policeman

charver – sexual intercourse[28]

chicken – young man

clobber – clothes[34]

cod – bad[35]

cottage – a public lavatory used for sexual encounters

cottaging – seeking or obtaining sexual encounters in public lavatories

cove – taxi[36]

crimper – hairdresser[citation needed]

dally – sweet, kind. Possibly an alternate pronunciation of dolly.[citation needed]

dilly boy – a male prostitute[citation needed]

dinari – money (Latin denarii was the ‘d’ of the pre decimal penny)[citation needed]

dish – buttocks[24]

dolly – pretty, nice, pleasant, from Irish Gaelic dóighiúil ‘handsome’ pronounced ‘doil’

dona – woman (perhaps from Italian donna or Lingua Franca dona)[37]

dorcas – term of endearment, ‘one who cares’. The Dorcas Society was a ladies’ church association of the nineteenth century, which made clothes for the poor.[citation needed]

drag – clothes, esp. women’s clothes (prob from Romani — indraka — skirt; also possibly from German – tragen – v. to wear (clothes))[citation needed]

doss – bed[citation needed]

ecaf – face (backslang)[38]

eek – face (abbreviation of ecaf)[38]

ends – hair[citation needed]

esong, sedon – nose (backslang)[39]

fantabulosa – fabulous/wonderful

feele/freely/filly child- young (from the Italian figlio, for son)

fruit – queen

funt – pound

gelt – money (Yiddish)

handbag – money

hoofer – dancer

HP (homy polone) – effeminate gay man

jarry – food, also mangarie (from Italian mangiare or Lingua Franca mangiaria)

jubes -,breasts

kaffies – trousers

khazi – toilet, also spelt carsey

lacoddy – body

lallies (lylies) – legs, sometimes also knees (as in “get down on yer lallies”)

lallie tappers- feet

latty/lattie – room, house or flat

lills – hands

lilly – police (Lilly Law)

lyles – legs (prob. from “Lisle stockings”)

lucoddy – body

luppers – fingers (Yiddish — lapa — paw)

mangarie – food, also jarry (from Italian mangiare or Lingua Franca mangiaria)

martinis – hands

measures – money

meese – plain, ugly (from Yiddish “meeiskeit, in turn from Hebrew מָאוּס repulsive, loathsome, despicable, abominable)

meshigener – nutty, crazy, mental (from Yiddish ‘meshugge’, in turn from Hebrew מְשֻׁגָּע crazy)

metzas – money (Italian -mezzi “means, wherewithal”)

mince – walk (affectedly)

naff – awful, dull, hetero

nanti – not, no, none (Italian — niente)

national handbag – dole, welfare, government financial assistance

ogle -,look, admire

ogles – eyes

oglefakes – glasses

omi – man (from Romance)

omi-palone – effeminate man, or homosexual

onk – nose (cf “conk”)

orbs – eyes

oven – mouth (nanti pots in the oven = no teeth in the mouth)

palare pipe – telephone (“talk pipe”)

palliass – back

park, parker – give

plate feet – to fellate

palone – woman (Italian paglione – “straw mattress”, [cf. old Cant “hay-bag” = woman]); also spelled “polony” in Graham Greene’s 1938 novel Brighton Rock

palone-omi – lesbian

pots – teeth

remould – sex change

riah/riha – hair (backslang)

riah zhoosher – hairdresser

rough trade – a working class or blue collar sex partner or potential sex partner; a tough, thuggish or potentially violent sex partner

scarper – to run off (from Italian scappare, to escape or run away or from rhyming slang Scapa Flow, to go)

schlumph – drink

scotch – leg (scotch egg=leg)

screech – mouth, speak

sharpy – policeman (from — charpering omi)

sharpy polone – policewoman

shush – steal (from client)

shush bag – hold-all

shyker/shyckle – wig (mutation of the Yiddish sheitel)

slap – makeup

so – homosexual (e.g. “Is he ‘so’?”)

stimps – legs

stimpcovers -,stockings, hosiery

strides – trousers

strillers – piano

switch – wig

thews – thighs

tober – road (a Shelta word, Irish bóthar)

todd (Sloanne) – alone

tootsie trade – sex between two passive homosexuals (as in: ‘I don’t do tootsie trade’)

trade – sex, sex-partner, potential sex-partner

troll -,to walk about (esp. looking for trade)

vada/varder – to see (from Italian — dialect vardare = guardare – look at)

vardered — vardering

vera (lynn) – gin
vogue – cigarette (from Lingua Franca — fogus – “fire, smoke”)

vogueress – female smoker

willets – breasts

yews – (from French “yeux”) eyes

zhoosh -,style hair, tart up, mince (Romani – “zhouzho” – clean, neat)

zhoosh our riah — style our hair

zhooshy – showy

Polai in use

Omies and palones of the jury, vada well at the eek of the poor ome who stands before you, his lallies trembling.—taken from “Bona Law”, a Round The Horne sketch written by Barry Took and Marty Feldman
Translation: “Men and women of the jury, look well at the face of the poor man who stands before you, his legs trembling.”

So bona to vada…oh you! Your lovely eek and your lovely riah.—taken from “Piccadilly Palare”, a song by Morrissey
Translation: “So good to see…oh you! Your lovely face and your lovely hair.”

As feely ommes…we would zhoosh our riah, powder our eeks, climb into our bona new drag, don our batts and troll off to some bona bijou bar. In the bar we would stand around with our sisters, vada the bona cartes on the butch omme ajax who, if we fluttered our ogle riahs at him sweetly, might just troll over to offer a light for the unlit vogue clenched between our teeth.—taken from Parallel Lives, the memoirs of renowned gay journalist Peter Burton
Translation: “As young men…we would style our hair, powder our faces, climb into our great new clothes, don our shoes and wander/walk off to some great little bar. In the bar we would stand around with our gay companions, look at the great genitals on the butch man nearby who, if we fluttered our eyelashes at him sweetly, might just wander/walk over to offer a light for the unlit cigarette clenched between our teeth.”

In the Are You Being Served? episode “The Old Order Changes”, Captain Peacock asks Mr Humphries to get “some strides for the omi with the naff riah” (i.e. trousers for the fellow with the unstylish hair).[40]

See also

  • African American Vernacular English (sometimes called Ebonics)
  • Bahasa Binan
  • Boontling
  • Caló (Chicano)
  • Carny, North American fairground cant
  • Gayle language
  • Gay slang
  • Grypsera
  • IsiNgqumo
  • Lavender linguistics
  • Lunfardo and Vesre
  • Rotwelsch
  • Swardspeak
  • Verlan

References

  1.  Polari at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2.  Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). “Polari”. Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
  3.  Quinion, Michael (1996). “How bona to vada your eek!”. WorldWideWords. Retrieved February 20, 2006.
  4.  Collins English Dictionary, Third Edition
  5.  a b c Mayhew, Henry (1968). London Labour and the London Poor, 1861 3. New York: Dover Press. p. 47.
  6. a b “British Spies: Licensed to be Gay.” Time. 19 August 2008
  7. “The secret language of polari”. liverpoolmuseums.org.uk. Retrieved on 27 August 2015.
  8. Baker, Paul (2002) Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang. London: Continuum ISBN 0-8264-5961-7
  9. “Gay men in the Merchant Marine, Liverpool Maritime Museum”. Liverpoolmuseums.org.uk. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
  10. Partridge, Eric (1937) Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
  11.  Punch and Judy. (with Illustrations by George Cruickshank). Thomas Hailes Lacey, London, 1859
  12. a b Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 206. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
  13. Paul Baker (2 September 2003). Polari – The Lost Language of Gay Men. Routledge. p. 161. ISBN 9781134506347. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  14.  Lowder, J. Bryan (2015-07-28). “Listen to Polari, the Lost Art of Gay Conversation”. Slate.
  15. New Europe Online (24.11.2013) http://www.neurope.eu/article/take-polari-safari
  16.  Polari on iTunes
  17.  a b Quinion, Michael. “Naff”. World Wide Words. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
  18. Waterhouse, Keith (1959). Billy Liar. Michael Joseph. pp. 35, 46. ISBN 0-7181-1155-9. p35 “Naff off, Stamp, for Christ sake!” p46 “Well which one of them’s got the naffing engagement ring?”
  19. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English Dalzell and Victor (eds.) Routledge, 2006, Vol. II p. 1349
  20. “Definition for zhoosh – Oxford Dictionaries Online (World English)”. Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved 2012-06-12.
  21.  a b Baker 2003, p. 49.
  22.  Baker 2003, p. 52, 59.
  23. a b Baker 2003, p. 52.
  24. a b Baker 2003, p. 45.
  25. Baker 2003, p. 59, 60.
  26. a b Baker 2003, p. 164.
  27. Baker 2003, p. 57.
  28. a b Baker 2003, p. 46.
  29. Baker 2003, p. 26, 32, 85.
  30.  a b Baker 2003, p. 167.
  31.  a b c d Baker 2003, p. 168.
  32. Baker 2003, p. 97.
  33. Baker 2003, p. 46, 168.
  34. Baker 2003, p. 138, 139, 169.
  35. Baker 2003, p. 169.
  36. Baker 2003, p. 61.
  37. Baker 2003, p. 26.
  38.  a b Baker 2003, p. 58, 210.
  39. Baker 2003, p. 31.
  40.  “The Old Order Changes”. Are You Being Served?. 18 March 1977.

Bibliography

Baker, Paul (2002) Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang. London: Continuum: ISBN 0-8264-5961-7
Baker, Paul (2003). Polari – The Lost Language of Gay Men. London: Routledge. ISBN 9781134506354.

Elmes, Simon & Rosen, Michael (2002) Word of Mouth. Oxford University Press: ISBN 0-19-866263-7

External links

Chris Denning’s article on Polari with bibliography

The Polari Bible by the Manchester Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

Colin Richardsons What Brings You Trolling Back Then article

 http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/polari.htm

Back in the dim days of my youth, the BBC had a succession of hugely successful radio comedy programmes which have never been matched since. The BBC itself has a strong tendency to be nostalgic about them, calling them the Golden Age of Radio Comedy, though these days the gold mainly ends up in the till, now it has discovered how many other people have fond memories of the shows and are prepared to pay to hear them again on CD or cassette. The best known is almost certainly the Goon Show, attested by its Usenet newsgroup and its fan clubs in North America, Britain and elsewhere. Others included Take It from Here, Hancock’s Half Hour and Round The Horne. This last show was introduced by Kenneth Horne, an urbane straight man, who had previously partnered Richard Murdoch in Much Binding in the Marsh, a send-up of a small RAF station “somewhere in England”, but who in the intervening years had had an extremely successful business career. He was partnered by Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick and Betty Marsden, with scripts by Marty Feldman and Barry Took.

One element of the show, which was stereotypical in its layout, always featured a pair of screamingly camp young men: “Hello, I’m Julian and this is my friend Sandy”, overplayed by Williams and Paddick to an extent which robbed it of much of its latent homophobia (particularly as both were known to be gay), though I cannot imagine a similar duo being allowed anywhere near a BBC microphone in this supposedly more permissive but also infinitely more sensitive age. These two spoke in a slangy language which was virtually incomprehensible to anyone hearing it for the first time, though by repetition week by week a mental glossary could be constructed. “How bona to vada your eek!” was a recurring expression; there were references to “butch omis” and to “omipalones”; they always “trolled” everywhere, though their “lallies” weren’t up to much of that; things were “naph”, “bona” or sometimes “fantabulosa”.

This was not a constructed language, but a secret vocabulary, a cant or argot in the linguist’s term, which uses the grammar and syntax of English as well as most of its core vocabulary. It was in fairly common use in the theatre and in related branches of show business such as ballet and the circus, to the extent that a book on the Round the Horne series remarked that Williams and Paddick often really did speak like that in real life. It is variously called Palare, Palyaree, Palary or Polari from its own word for “talk” or “speech”.

HORNE: Would I have vada’d any of them do you think?

SANDY: Oooaaawwh! He’s got all the Palare, ain’t he?

JULIAN: [archly] I wonder where he picks it up?

Linguists still argue about where it came from. The larger part of its vocabulary is certainly Italian in origin, but nobody seems to know how the words got into Britain. Some experts say its origins lie in the lingua franca of the shores of the Mediterranean, a pidgin in use in the Middle Ages and afterwards as a medium of communication between sailors and traders from widely different language groups, the core of this language being Italian and Occitan. Quite a number of British sailors learnt the lingua franca. On returning home and retiring from the sea it is supposed that many of them became vagabonds or travellers, because they had no other means of livelihood; this threw them into contact with roving groups of entertainers and fairground people, who picked up some of the pidgin terms and incorporated them into their own canting private vocabularies. However, other linguists point to the substantial number of native Italians who came to Britain as entertainers in the early part of the nineteenth century, especially the Punch and Judy showmen, organ grinders and peddlars of the 1840s.

But Polari is a linguistic mongrel. Words from Romany (originally an Indian dialect), Shelta (the cant of the Irish tinkers), Yiddish, back slang, rhyming slang and other non-standard English are interspersed with words of Italian origin. Take this exchange from one of the Round the Horne sketches:

SANDY: Roll up yer trouser legs … we want to vada yer calves.

JULIAN: Hmmm … his scotches may be a bit naph but his plates are bona.

[scotch = Scotch egg = leg; plates = plates of meat = feet]

So it would not be surprising to find that both the Italian showman and the lingua franca theories are right, each contributing words at different stages in Polari’s development. This might indeed explain the substantial number of synonyms noted at various times. However, the vocabulary is not well recorded, and now may never be, because it was normal until quite recently for linguists to ignore such low-life forms, which rarely turned up in print (and then only in partial glossaries). But we do know that a few of Polari’s terms have made it across the language barrier into semi-standard English, much of it seeming to come to us via Cockney: karsey, a lavatory; mankey, poor, bad or tasteless; ponce, a pimp; and scarper to run away.

The rest have stayed within the theatrical and circus worlds, and have also been incorporated particularly into the private languages of some homosexual groups, as Julian and Sandy make very clear. Some writers have sought to claim Polari exclusively for the gay community, renaming it Gayspeak. In the 1990s it certainly seems to be heavily used by some city-based British gays (but only male gays, not lesbians), who have invented new terms like nante ’andbag for “no money” (handbag here being a self-mocking example of metonymy). However, it can scarcely have always been so, unless every fairground showman, circus performer, strolling player, cheapjack and Punch and Judy man in history was gay, which seems somewhat unlikely.

There are other characteristics of the language of Julian and Sandy. They tend to make diminuitives of nouns: would you like a bijou drinkette? for example. They also playfully invent words based on Italian models, such as fantabulosa. And they use a few terms which seem to be Polari and yet are unrecorded in glossaries: luffer = finger and nish = no, stop (as in “nish shouting!”; unpublished researches of the OED suggest this is either of Yiddish origin or comes from Irish Gaelic.)

A quick Polari lexicon:

batt = shoe; bevvy = drink (or possibly an abbreviation of beverage, or both); bijou = small; bimbo = dupe, sucker; bona = good; camp = excessive or showy or affecting mannerisms of the opposite sex; charper = to search (leading to charpering omi = policeman); dolly = nice or pleasant; dona = woman (hence the Australian slang word donah); drag = clothes (and so possibly via the gay world to the informal but widespread use meaning to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex); eek = face; fantabulosa = excellent; feele = child (hence feely omi = a young man, sometimes specifically an underaged young man); lally = leg; lattie = house, lodgings; leucoddy = body; naph = bad (quite possibly the origin of the current British English slang term naff); nante = none or nothing; ogle = eye (hence ogleriah = eyelash); omi = man; omipalone = homosexual; palare = talk; palone; woman; riah = hair (possibly back-slang); tosheroon = half a crown (two shillings and sixpence), possibly a much-corrupted form of the Italian mezzo caroon; troll, = walk, wander; vada = look; walloper = dancer; zhoosh = fix, tidy. And perhaps you might like to be able to count to ten in Polari: una, duey, trey, quater, chinker, sey, setter, otto, nobber, dacha.

Now you can have a go at translating this:

As feely homies, we would zhoosh our riahs, powder our eeks, climb into our bona new drag, don our batts and troll off to some bona bijou bar.

http://www.polari.org.uk

Basket or Packet…………The bulge in a mans jeans

Betty bracelet……………Policewoman

Bijou……………………..Small 

Bod……………………….Body 

Bold………………………Daring 

Bona……………………..Good, Nice

Buns……………………..Ass cheeks

Butch…………………….Masculine

Camp…………………….Effeminate

Capello……………………Hat 

Carsey……………………Toilet

Chicken……………………Young man

Charper…………………..To Search 

Charpering omi…………….Policeman 

Cottage…………………..Public Toilet

Cottaging…………………Looking for sex in a cottage 

Crimper…………………..Hairdresser 

Dish ……………………..Nice looking man, Nice arse

Dizzy……………………..Scatty

Dolly………………………Pretty

Drag………………………Women’s clothes 

Eek ………………………Face (Backslang ecaf) 

Esong……………………..Nose 

Fantabulosa ………………Wonderful 

Fruit………………………Old queen 

Gay……………………….Good as you

Gelt……………………….Money 

Glossies……………………Magazines 

Hoofer…………………….Dancer 

Kaffies……………………Trousers

Lallies……………………..Legs 

Latty………………………House

Lills……………………….Hands 

lilly Law……………………Police

Luppers……………………Fingers

Mangarie…………………..Food

Mince………………………A camp walk

Naff ………………………Awfull ( Not Available For F–king) 

Nanti………………………None, no 

National handbag ………….Dole money

Oglefakes………………….Glasses 

Ogles…………………….. Eyes 

Omi………………………..Man 

Omipolone………………….Camp man

Palliass…………………….Back or rear

Polari………………………Talk , to chat

Polone………………………Woman 

Pots,………………………Teeth 

Riah……………………….Hair 

Riah shusher……………….Hairdresser 

Shush bag…………………Bag or Holdall 

Slap…………………………Makeup 

Thews……………………..Thighs 

Trade………………………Sex 

Troll ………………………..To go walking 

Varda………………………See, To look

A short video in polari

http://youtu.be/Y8yEH8TZUsk 

   
 

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