When Hollywood mogul Merv Griffin died on Aug. 12, queer-savvy media watchers wondered whether notices of his passing would maintain his preference for passing as straight. In recent years, celebrity obituaries have continued the long tradition of burying the departed closet cases in journalistically closed coffins, taking the not-so-secret truth with them to the grave. Singer Luther Vandross, writer Susan Sontag and film director Ismail Merchant had all been accorded the privilege of “inning” by the press, however open a secret their homosexuality had been while they were alive. Nil nisi bonum appears to be the rule for editors, and noting that a deceased famous person was gay certainly seems to count as speaking evil.
In Griffin’s case, though, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised, as The New York Times, The Washington Post all noted in their obituaries that Griffin had been the target in the early 1990s of unsuccessful palimony and sexual harassment suits, both brought by men who claimed that he had done them wrong, though in different ways, and both dismissed in court. Still, these lawsuits brought out into the open, if briefly, what had long been known in Hollywood: namely, that the divorced father of one, and highly visible public escort of Eva Gabor, was also gay. In the years since his legal outing, Griffin was sometimes questioned about his sexuality and always deflected the question with a joke: “You’re asking an 80-year-old man about his sexuality right now! Get a life!” In 2005 he told The New York Times with a sly grin: “I tell everybody that I’m a quatre-sexual: I will do anything with anybody for a quarter.”
The Associated Press, however, played the game the old way, limiting its obituary to Griffin’s early marriage:
Griffin and Julann Elizabeth Wright were married in 1958, and their son, Anthony, was born the following year. They divorced in 1973 because of “irreconcilable differences.”
“It was a pivotal time in my career, one of uncertainty and constant doubt,” he wrote in [his] autobiography. “So much attention was being focused on me that my marriage felt the strain.” He never remarried.
Merv Griffin’s Beverly Hills funeral was a major Hollywood event, headlined by Nancy Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger and co-starring Larry King, Ellen Degeneres and a host of TV old-timers such as Dick Van Dyke, Jack Klugman and Steve Lawrence. For some, the event was reminiscent of the funeral of another famous tycoon, an occasion that played a key role in launching the controversial journalistic-political tactic that came to be known as outing.
The New York gay magazine Outweek introduced the practice of outing closeted public figures, mostly politicians and show business celebrities who were unwilling to enlist in the cause of fighting AIDS. When prominent publisher Malcolm Forbes died in February 1990, the exposure of his homosexual side was not long in coming. The March 18, 1990, cover of OutWeek showed a photo of Malcolm Forbes on his motorcycle, with the bold headline: “The Secret Gay Life of Malcolm Forbes.” The article, by Michelangelo Signorile, begins with Forbes’ funeral, noting the presence among the mourners of many prominent homophobes — Richard Nixon, William F. Buckley, Al Neuharth — and asks whether they knew “that they were coming to pay homage to someone who embodied what they ultimately detested?”
Signorile concluded his article with a defense of outing Forbes. First, he noted that, “All too often history is distorted,” and the fact that one of the most influential men in America was gay should be recorded. Second, “it sends a clear message to the public at large that we are everywhere.” The third reason Signorile gave was that this story illuminated a choice made by many gay people. In researching the story Signorile tried to interview a gay man who had been close to Forbes and his family, someone who could have shed light on “the real inner workings of Forbes’ mind.”
But, after considerable thought, he decided not to speak to me. Currently living a closeted existence with regard to his own family and business, he said, “My choice in speaking to you is between myself and the greater gay community. And — at this moment — I have to go with myself.”
The Outweek story set off a firestorm of controversy about outing, with most condemning the tactic. The L.A. Times, which also editorialized against outing, named only dead people: Forbes, Rock Hudson, Liberace, Roy Cohn, Terry Dolan, Perry Ellis and Oliver Sipple; Newsweek limited itself to Forbes (reproducing the OutWeek cover photo and headline) and Liz Smith, a “favorite target” of the outers who is quoted as saying, “I may be a gossip columnist, but I do respect the right of people not to tell me ‘everything,’ and I reserve the same right for myself.” The New York Times would refer only to “a famous businessman who had recently died.” Times spokesman William Adler took a hard line, saying that the paper would not print “hearsay” even if the subject is no longer living: “The thinking at the Times is that in most cases an individual’s private sex life should not be the subject of coverage by the newspaper unless the person wishes it to be so,” Adler said. “That perspective extends through their lifetime and even after their death.”Seventeen years later, the situation is vastly different, but celebrity closets remain dangerous journalistic territory, even when their inhabitants are deceased and therefore immune from being libeled. The day before Merv Griffin’s funeral, the Hollywood Reporter, one of the industry “bibles” read by everyone in showbiz, ran a front-page story by regular writer Ray Richmond that began, “Merv Griffin was gay.” Richmond, who had worked for Griffin in the 1980s, went on to note that “Merv’s secret gay life was widely known throughout showbiz culture, if not the wider America.” Richmond made clear why he thought it important to set the record, um, straight about Griffin’s sexuality:
He certainly didn’t owe us an explanation, but maybe he owed it to himself to remove the suffocating veil he’d been forced to hide behind throughout his adult life. Then again, Merv carved his niche in the entertainment world at a time when being gay wasn’t OK, when disclosure was unthinkable and the allegation alone could deep-six one’s career.
If you’re Griffin, why would you think a judgmental culture would be any more tolerant as you grew into middle and old age? Even in the capital of entertainment — in a business where homosexuality isn’t exactly a rare phenomenon — it’s still spoken of in hushed tones or, more often, not at all. And Merv’s brush with tabloid scandal no doubt only drove him further into the closet.
While it would seem everything has changed today, little actually has. You can count on the fingers of one hand, or at most two, the number of high-powered stars, executives and public figures who have come out. Those who don’t can’t really be faulted, as rarely do honesty and full disclosure prove a boon to one’s showbiz livelihood.
Nonetheless, the elephant that was his sexual orientation never really stopped following Griffin from room to room. He could duck it for a while, but it would always find him. It’s disheartening that Merv had to die to shake it for good.
Incoming editor Elizabeth Guider opined upon reflection that the column was not “malicious, mendacious or unfair-minded” and therefore [she] was comfortable not merely with its legality but its message as well. She understood that it’s sometimes the job of columnists to shake up the status quo as well as to “spark more discussion and deal with different viewpoints. That’s what free speech is about.”
Reuters, however, which had run the story when THR first posted it, took it down and did not put it back. Reuters explained: “This was a story from The Hollywood Reporter that ran as part of a Reuters news feed. We have dropped the story from our entertainment news feed, as it did not meet our standards for news.” Officials of the news service did not explain, however, why the article seemed to meet their standards when they originally ran it (Yahoo News, which picked up the Reuters story, kept it up even after Reuters took it down).
So, how far have we come in the years between Malcolm Forbes’ and Merv Griffin’s funerals? Quite a way, to be sure, but at least for many power-wielders, things are much the same. Hollywood, like its East Coast counterpart in image manipulation, Washington, D.C., is endlessly engaged in the selling of constructed personae on the mainstream media’s pages and screens. If, as Churchill said, in wartime truth has a bodyguard of lies, then Hollywood’s image factory is always at war. Its defensive strategy relies heavily on a fifth column within the ranks of the press: gossip writers. The progeny of Louella Parsons and heirs of Hedda Hopper follow in the footsteps of their infamous ancestors, “two vain and ignorant [columnists who] tyrannized Hollywood” in the 1940s, as they were characterized by historian Otto Freidrich. Early in the 20th century the component parts of the image-manufacturing complex were firmly in place: On the one side studio publicists, publicity agents and public relations flacks, and on the other side an array of media writers ranging from freelance stringers to writers working for supermarket tabloids and magazines, whose contemporary counterparts work for mainstream personality gossip magazines like People and US, television programs like Entertainment Tonight, syndicated gossip columnists that reach millions of readers through their local newspapers, and the latest venue, commercial and amateur websites. But despite the occasional adversarial pretense, these groups really collude in providing the sort of gossip they believe the public wants to know. Gossip may not have the journalistic respectability of “hard” news, but it is an increasingly visible feature of the media landscape.
It may be a commonplace of journalism courses that the ultimate standard for news media is honesty — never knowingly to report something that is untrue, even if the “whole” truth may not be reportable for a variety of reasons (such as protecting one’s sources). But when it comes to celebrity gossip, “The standards are different,” said Jerry Nachman, then editor of the New York Post. “That’s why I always say gossip pages should come with little warning labels: The rules of regular journalism were not followed in reporting these stories.”In the case of homosexuality, we begin with a topic that already puts a strain on the rules of journalism. Former New York Times columnist Roger Wilkins, the first black writer appointed to the paper’s editorial board, said that during his two years as the urban affairs columnist in the late 1970s, only three of his columns were killed — and two of them were on gay topics. So, it should surprise no one that one of the most common departures from the rules of regular journalism is the collusion of gossip writers, and other, more “respectable” journalists, in maintaining the security of celebrity closets.
During the outing furor of the early 1990s, gay journalist Randy Shilts, while not supporting outing, did describe the system clearly:
Hundreds of publicity agents in Hollywood and New York make their living by planting items in entertainment columns about whom celebrities are dating. Many of these items are patently false and intended only to cover up the celebrity’s homosexuality. Many newspaper writers and editors know this and cheerfully participate in the deception because the bits help fill their columns. Editors who would never reveal that a public figure was gay have no problem with routinely saying that same person is straight.
“Celebrity publications are lied to up, down and sideways,” said a longtime editor at Ladies Home Journal and US, but this is highly disingenuous and ignores the fact that celebrity writers and publications are willing participants in a process that might be called inning. The gossip writers, many of them lesbian or gay, who speculated about when Malcolm Forbes would marry Elizabeth Taylor, or when Merv Griffin would marry Eva Gabor, knew what they were doing.
When singer Luther Vandross died in 2005, the media obituaries politely ignored the widespread speculation that he was gay. Using familiar inning code in their Vandross obit, the AP reported that, “the lifelong bachelor never had any children, but doted on his nieces and nephews. The entertainer said his busy lifestyle made marriage difficult; besides, it wasn’t what he wanted.” As blogger Pam Spaulding put it:
The real problem is that the news media, which has no problem recounting the endless het romances of stars (real or alleged), is squeamish about even asking a star whether or not they are gay — how is this journalism? In Vandross’s situation (as well as in the posthumous media de-gaying cases of Susan Sontag and Ismail Merchant), the coverage bends over backwards, straining any sense of credibility, to avoid any fact-finding about the subject in question that might reveal they were gay, even if the person was openly gay in their social circles, but not to their fan base. Why is there a need to preserve a straight fantasy in death?
In the end, of course, the issue is not whether Merv Griffin’s secret would be buried with him. In the age of Wikipedia, it’s a given that anyone interested enough to Google Merv would quickly get the gist of the story, if not the gory details, or even the less savory details, such as those recounted by Michelangelo Signorile in his 1993 book, “Queer in America,” in which an unnamed Hollywood “Mogul” is described as firing men from his company for being openly gay. The real point of the episode is the enduring power of the Hollywood closet that held even a billionaire locked in its embrace, paying homage to the presumed prejudices of the public.
Have you ever wondered what sex during the Black Plague was like? It sounds sick and twisted, but life goes on, as they say, even during an epidemic. People are still people, even when a ton of people are swept away (atleast75 million died during the epidemic). Engaging in physical relationships during the Black Plague (another common name for it) was in many ways a lot like how it was during the rest of the Middle Ages, but the extreme conditions led to some extreme expressions of sexuality.
“Bedroom activity” during the Black Plague was in some ways pretty wild, with some “revelers” deciding to hump the rest of their seemingly short lives away. But doctors at the time also told people to avoid overexerting themselves in the bedroom because they thought the “bad air” would reach them easier if they did. Read on to learn more about what making love during the Black Plague was really like.
There Were “Gatherings” In Graveyards
The Black Plague was a stressful time to be alive, for obvious reasons. One way to cope, according to historian David Herlihy inThe Black Plague and the Transformation of the West, was by celebrating life in cemeteries. “Group activities” were one of the ways people celebrated life. At Avignon’s Champfleur cemetery, for example, things got so bad that a papal official had to threaten the “fornicators and adulterers” with excommunication for committing “unseemly acts” on the graves.
Street walkers even took advantage of this desire by hanging out at cemeteries. It wasn’t all fornication: revelers also dared to dance, fight, throw dice, and play other games among the graves as well.
Medical Experts Advised Limited “Physical Activity”
Medical logic at the time said that too much “physical activity” “overheated the body,” according to Joseph Patrick Byrne’sThe Black Plague, and this allowed “bad air” to enter the body through one’s pores, increasing the chances of catching the plague. Heavy breathing during the act might also lead to inhaling too much of that same “bad air.” A German physician even advised that “all physical exertions and emotions of the mind,” including running, jumping, jealousy, and promiscuity, should be totally avoided or risk catching the dreaded Black Plague. Whatcouldpeople do? They could spend their downtime “relating tales and stories and with good music to delight their hearts.”
“Selling Yourself” Was Institutionalized
As the casualty toll of the plague increased, working girls benefited more and more, according toJeffrey Richards.They began to enjoy a “seller’s market” due to a general lack of labor in the era, leading to “a general improvement of their conditions.”
Leah Lydia Otiswrote that as the Black Plague waned, there was a “quantum leap in the institutionalization of [working girls.]” Municipally-owned “parlors” were built, complete with “royal safeguards.” Otis did note, however, that the demand for girls began to wane at that time, as well.
Some Thought Immorality Helped Cause The Plague
Joseph Patrick Byrnewrote that many lawmakers at the time adopted the “Christian belief that sin angered God, who expressed his divine wrath through plague,” and they turned those beliefs into legislation. Many older “moral laws” essentially became just plain laws. This meant sexual immorality was heavily legislated. This “sanitary” legislation targeted sodomy and selling one’s body in particular. In Florence, for example, working girls were “kicked out” of the city in the waning years of the Black Plague. When the industry reemerged in the decades that followed, they were still forbidden to work on the streets. Certain establishments, however, were still allowed to legally operate.
There Was Still An Active Gay Subculture
According to theEncyclopedia of Homosexuality, Volume 2, a “vital urban subculture” of homosexuals existed during the Black Plague. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that “more detailed records of the life and attitudes of homosexual men and women” emerged, but this vital subculture was alive, despite “only fleeting glimpses of it in the literature” of the period.
A few decades before the Black Plague,King Edward IIof England was murdered, and centuries-old rumors say he was executed for homosexual activity. (Mel Gibson’sBraveheartreceived a lot of criticism for its negative portrayal of Edward.) The belief that “sexual immorality” such as “sodomy” helped cause the Black Plague surely was another factor in keeping the subculture hidden during the period.
‘Pseudo-Flagellants’ Performed Acts In Public
So-called “flagellants” during the Black Plague were, according to Professor Mark Damen ofUtah State University, “professional self-torturers” who went around whipping themselves for a fee in order to “bring God’s favor upon a community hoping to avert the bubonic plague.” They were literal whipping boys that people employed to buy “remission from sin.” The Church, of course, outlawed this behavior, but that didn’t have do much to stop the practice. There was also anothergroup of lesser-known “pseudo-flagellants”that went from town-to-town performing “physical acts” in public for a fee. The Church outlawed them, as well.
Incidents Of Incest Increased
InDomestic Violence in Medieval Texts, Eve Salisbury, Georgiana Donavin, and Merrall Llewelyn Price wrote that incest in England actually increased during the Black Plague. Why? Simple arithmetic. The plague “destroyed between one-third and one-half” of the population, making exogamy (marrying only outside their clan or community) “improbable.” The problem, Donavin wrote, wasn’tkeepingcousins from marrying, but instead “finding living cousins with whom one might preserve the patrimony.” A lot of noble families died off during the plague years, meaning “intrafamilial marriages greatly increased.”
Fines For Fornication Increased
Richard M. Smith wrote in Land, Kinship and Life-Cyclethat the severity of fines for fornication in England increased as the severity of other legal fines generally decreased in the middle of the Black Plague period (1349). Smith interpreted the high fines during this period as a punishment for acts that were seen as morally improper. The courts, essentially, decided to ramp up the punishment for immorality in response to the Black Plague. Blame the fornicators, basically. Smith did note, however, that attitudes about unseemly acts such as fornication, and thus the inclination to increase the fines for such acts, may have been changing even before the plague struck.
The Most Intense Symptoms Suffered By Victims Of 14th-Century Black Plague
Responsible for eliminating anywhere between 30 to 60% of Europe’s population between 1346 and 1353, the bubonic plague was a cause of terror. Gruesome symptoms led to mass panic and widespread fear. What happened to people with the black plague? From oozing boils to decaying skin, gross symptoms of the black plague were a common sight in Europe during the 1300s.
The disease occasionally crops up again today. While not always fatal, bubonic plague symptoms can have lasting consequences for sufferers. Early black plague signs include odd lumps and bumps, but also very common ailments. Many plague sufferers initially experience normal symptoms of a cold or flu, like a fever and chills, only to have their health start deteriorating rapidly. Learning about the black plague will leave you second-guessing waiting to see a doctor the next time you come down with a seemingly mild sickness.
Gangrene Is An Unpleasant Side Effect
Sufferers often end up with gangrene as a result of the virus, which is sometimes treated via drastic measures like amputation. Gangrene causes the skin to turn shades of blue, purple, green, red, or black. Swelling and blisters may also occur, and these emit a foul-smelling pus. Skin may also become cold and tender.
One reason amputation is often necessary is that gangrene can lead to septic shock, an often fatal complication.
Bumps And Boils Eventually Start To Ooze
After their initial appearance, the egg-sized lumps found on plague sufferers get worse. The bumps and boils spread throughout the body. Over time, they begin to rupture and emit blood and pus.
One Complication Will Promptly Shut Down Bodily Functions
Disseminated intravascular coagulation is a medical condition sometimes caused by the plague. This is a serious and potentially fatal complication in which blood clots throughout the body and – as a result – internals organs begin to shut down. This was a death sentence in the early days of the plague, and is often still fatal today.
However, the condition is sometimes successfully treated via a medically induced coma.
Bumps The Size Of An Egg Present As The First Symptom
If you’ve contracted the plague, the first symptom is a little hard to miss. You develop what are called “buboes,” which generally develop a week after you’re exposed to the virus. These are large bumps, about the size of a chicken egg, that are found around the groin, armpit, or neck. In addition to being massive, they’re sensitive.
The bumps are also warm to the touch and tender.
Sufferers Engaged In Self-Flagellating Religious Rituals
When you’re suffering intensely for unknown reasons, it’s not uncommon to look to the skies for an answer. In the 1300s, some sufferers concluded the Black Death was a punishment brought on by an angry God for the impurities in their own souls. Their solution? Intense acts of self flagellation.
Sufferers, especially those in the upper class, would march from town to town. In front of a public audience, they would beat one another and themselves with heavy straps of leather covered in shards of metal. This ritual was repeated three times a day for a 33-and-a-half-day period.
As more and more people began participating, the pope caught wind. Concerned the self flagellants could usurp his power, he condemned the practice. It fizzled out shortly thereafter.
Mutant Bacteria Was Especially Harmful
Plague bacteria spreads rapidly throughout the body, shutting down nearly every vital function. While complications like gangrene and dehydration often led to the end for sufferers, many people were more or lesspoisoned.
This is due to yersinia pestis, a mutant bacteria that causes the plague. This bacteria is particularly violent as it is unable to survive outside a host, and it can penetrate and hide in a host’s cells. In order to survive, the bacteria multiplies quickly and disables a sufferer’s immune system. Yersinia pestis bacteria then clot underneath the skin, in hopes of being picked up by a passing flea.
Even Survivors Have Lasting Side Effects From The Vomiting
Vomiting is par for the course for a wide variety of common illnesses, but this is no minor ailment when it’s related to the black plague. Depending on the duration of the infection, the consequences of months of acid reflux and vomiting can last for years.
Take the case of Katie Simon, a woman who caught the plague on a backpacking trip she took shortly after college in the early 2000s. Her stomach was afflicted that she had to stick to a strict diet comprised of mostly bland foods free of gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, and processed sweeteners. Her upper digestive system was completely inflamed, and she had ulcers covering her stomach and esophagus. Recovery took two and a half years.
Sufferers Bleed Pretty Much Everywhere
In the disease’s later stages,bleeding is common. Septicemic plague occurs when plague bacteria begin multiplying in a sufferer’s body. They may bleed from the nose, mouth, rectum, or even under the skin.
Extremities Blacken As Bacteria Multiply
After an initial infection, bacteria begins to multiply in a sufferer’s bloodstream. This can cause a number of side effects associated with more common illnesses, such as fever, chills, and diarrhea. However, one symptom distinct to the black plague is a change in body color.
Sufferers often experienced the blackening of their fingers, toes, and nose.
Overall Skin Color Sometimes Changes
Blackening of the extremities is a common side effect, but some sufferers experience complete changes in skin color.
Take the case ofPaul Gaylord, an Oregon man who contracted the plague from his cat in 2012. After the initial fever, his skin began to turn grey throughout his body. This caused his wife to rush him to the hospital, where he luckily received life-saving treatment.
The Initial Symptoms Mimic Those Of Normal Colds And Flus
One of the scariest things about the black plague is that initial symptoms aren’t really that different from the run-of-the-mill flu or cold. You may experience fever, shaking, general weakness, and increased sweating.
Next time you experience these symptoms, especially if you’ve been near rats or fleas recently, you might want to see a doctor just in case.
The WWII hero saved millions of lives before being chemically castrated for being gay. He killed himself two years later.
“[Alan Turing] was and is a hero of all time…a man who is a gay icon, who didn’t deny his nature, his being, and for that he suffered. … This is a story that celebrates him, that celebrates outsiders; it celebrates anybody who’s ever felt different and ostracized and ever suffered prejudice.”
I usually find movie award shows to project primarily fluff and silliness, and they rarely stir deep emotions in me. But listening to Benedict Cumberbatch accept the award for Best Actor at the American Film Awards for his portrayal of Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game two years ago brought me to tears.
This stemmed from a sense of deep pride and an endless abyss of sadness. Cumberbatch’s commitment and passion shined through on stage as he talked about transforming Turing’s story, his brilliance, and his humanity to the silver screen, helping to give Turing the long-overdue wide-scale recognition he rightly deserves.
Alan Mathison Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, and he served as a mid-20th century British mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who, working during World War II at England’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, succeeded with his team of scientists and linguists in cracking the “Enigma code” used by the Nazi command to conduct covert communication operations.
Because of Turing and his colleagues’ efforts, Cumberbatch said, there is now general agreement that they shortened the war by at least two years, saving an estimated 17 million lives. Prime Minister Winston Churchill singled out Turing as the person whose work contributed the most to defeating the Germans.
The Imitation Game also highlights the enormous obstacles placed in the way of women entering the sciences, especially mid-century. In this regard, Keira Knightley made an equally moving speech at the American Film Awards in accepting theBest Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of Joan Clarke, who worked with Turing in deciphering the code.
“Particularly now, when women are such a minority in all fields, her story and the fact that she really perseveres, and she had space and time and grace, is really inspiring,” she said.
Though initially considered a national hero in Britain, in 1952, government officials arrested and prosecuted Turing on the antiquated charge of “gross indecency” when he “admitted” to maintaining a same-sex relationship. Rather than serving time in prison, Turing chose to undergo estrogen injections then considered in men a form of “chemical castration” eliminating sex drive. Turing took his life two years later by swallowing cyanide just two weeks short of his 42nd birthday.
I find it deeply ironic that while Turing and his team helped defeat the Nazi war machine, a nation intolerant of any form of difference including same-sex relations (especially between men), the primary “allied” nations fighting Nazi Germany – United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union – all maintained laws criminalizing homosexuality.
Under King Henry VIII in 1533, England passed a “buggery” (or sodomy) law, doling out the penalty of death for “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” Under the rule of Elizabeth I in 1564, death for same-sex acts between men became a permanent part of English law until the 1880s. British courts at the time concluded that sex between two women was impossible and, therefore, exempted women from the statute. By 1885, English Criminal Law punished homosexuality with imprisonment up to two years. This remained in effect until homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967.
In addition, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin criminalized homosexuality with eight years imprisonment or exile to Siberia. And in the United States, consensual same-sex relations were against the law at one time in all states, and remained illegal in some states as late as 2003, when the Supreme Court finally overturned such bans in its Lawrence v. Texas decision.
In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized to Alan Turing on behalf of the people of his nation for “the appalling way he was treated.” Parliament finally brought up a bill of “pardon” in 2013, and on 24 December, 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous pardon.
Though the English government never actually forced a physical stigma onto Turing’s body, they branded the symbol of the outsider, the pervert, the enemy deeply into his soul. This branding seriously deprived the British nation and the larger world community of his continued genius, his generosity, and the many additional gifts he could have imparted.
I agree with Benedict Cumberbatch that Turing’s wide-scale recognition is long overdue.
Americans rarely use the word “penis” in conversation. We say pecker or prick, willie or wang. Or whopper, wiener, wiggle stick, wrinkle beast, wobbly warhead, even wife’s worst enemy. “We, as humans, love to play with language, and mixing taboo language with clever wordplay to get coinages is a really common endeavor simply because it gets such a great reaction in others,” slang lexicographer Grand Barrett says. As a result, we’re always creating new slang for “penis,” and a lot of it can be traced back to these 11 words.
11 c. Sword
An instrument of death and destruction. A symbol of power and strength. A protector. An avenger. A slayer. The mighty sword is the ultimate symbol of masculinity. So, of course, it became one of the earliest slang terms for the penis, although a flaccid penis does not necessarily benefit from the comparison. Suddenly, swordplay is much less impressive.
While it’s possible that “cock” developed its sexual affiliation from its second meaning, “spout,” it’s more likely that it came from similarities to the wobbly red bits on a rooster’s neck. Just as a man’s penis reacts to arousal, an angry or excited cock’s wattles fill with blood, swell and brighten. Additionally, when a rooster crows, he arches his neck and tips his head back. Sound familiar? “Cock” eventually became so associated with the penis that the word “rooster” was created in the late 18th century to replace it.
Modern derivations: pillicock, peacock, cockroach, cockaroony, doodle
“Tail” has been used to refer to both male and female genitals since the 14th century, but “penis,” the Latin word for “tail,” was not introduced to the English language until 1676. And it wasn’t until 1965 that “schwanz,” the German word for “tail,” was assimilated. The usage creates an entirely new meaning to the phrase “tail wagging the dog.”
Before its induction into the dick-tionary, “doodle” was used to denote a simpleton. In the late 18th century, this became associated with a man who thinks not with his “big brain” but with his small one. Of course, “doodle” could also be a distant cousin of “cock,” born from a rooster’s crow—cockadoodle-doo. Either way, the word is at its best from the lips of Rainn Wilson in Juno, “This is one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet.”
More derivations: doodad, doohicky, loodle, whangdoodle, wang
While Richards everywhere have borne the modern weight of the penis-name burden, they aren’t alone. In fact, “Roger” was the first in a long line of names applied to the penis. “Thomas” was second, introduced in 1811, followed by “Dick,” “Peter” and “Willie.” In general, these poor gentlemen are simply victims of having a common name. But let’s be honest, all Richards who choose to go by Dick are asking for it.
More derivations: Pete, Pepe, Rudy, Willer, Stanley, Johnson
The 19th century was a time of discretion and delicacy, not description. Americans were prone to replacing distastefully specific words with more general and thus less offensive ones. “Breasts” was replaced with “bosom,” a word that referred to a woman’s entire midsection. “Legs” was replaced with “limbs.” And “penis” was replaced with “dingus,” a word derived from Dutch dinges that simply means “thing.”
It is said that “dong” first became associated with the penis after the publication of Edward Lear’s poem “The Dong with a Luminous Nose.” As the story goes, a one-eyed creature referred to as The Dong attempts to find himself a lady using a long, red lamplike probe. Tragically, light-up noses are not great lady-finders, and all his searching is in vain. Good thing he has his flesh light to keep him company.
Wienerwursts, literally “sausages of Vienna,” became familiar in the United States in the late 19th century. But the word “wiener” was not created until the “-wurst” was dropped in 1905. The wiener was not commonly associated with the penis until five years later. This means it took more than a decade for the most phallic food in history to be officially associated with the penis. How disappointing.
More derivations: wienie, wee, weeter, wee wee, weedle, wenis, sausage
German and Yiddish — both Germanic languages — share many of the same words. For example, “putz” and “schmuck” roughly translate to “ornament or decoration” in both languages. However, Jews used “schmuck” and “putz” to refer to a penis, and Germans used them to denote jewelry or Christ’s manger in a Nativity scene. Despite the inevitable miscommunications the holiday season may bring, Jews and Germans agree that there’s nothing like a good “putz” to put everyone in a festive mood.
More derivations: wantz, schmeck, schmeckel
While the exact origination of “junk” is unclear, there are theories that claim “junk” was a common word for male genitalia in gay culture in the early ’80s. During that time, “junk” was usually associated with being kicked. Since then, “junk” has ameliorated; it has lost some of its potency. Today, “junk” is commonplace. It could mean anything from male or female genitalia to worthless stuff.
More derivations: package, lunch box, picnic basket
2009 Disco Stick
Although Lady Gaga’s homemade euphemism confused audiences at first, the infamous hook “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” would carry “LoveGame” into top-ten charts in more than ten countries. Gaga cleared up any confusion on the words’ meaning in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying, “It’s another of my very thoughtful metaphors for a cock.” Barrett attributes creations like this to young people’s propensity to be “a hell of a lot more fun, which leads to lots more wordplay and goofing with language just for the heck of it.”
More derivations: meat stick, blow stick, jolly stick
Before A Penis Was A Penis: Sex Slang Throughout History
What word did people use for “vagina” in 1714? Or for “testicles” in 1300? Along with the rest of language, sex terminology has been evolving since humans started talking. Lest you assume that the vestiges of modern-day sex talk have been lost in the annals of time, the world’s foremost slang lexicographer is here to say it ain’t so. And, he should know; he can tell you exactly what a vagina was called in 1714.
Jonathon Green has dedicated his life to studying slang. His book, Green’s Dictionary of Slang, chronicles the march of English-language slang through the past five centuries — an epic Urban Dictionary for the ages that covers 10.3 million words (with citations) and has understandably solidified Green’s role as slang lexicography’s finest.
Now, Green and TimeGlider have graced us with interactive online charts that break out perhaps the most fascinating genre of Green’s research: sex slang. Humans have been “bumping uglies” since our cave days, but we certainly didn’t call it that back then. So, which period in history lays claim to the most inventive terms for genitalia and sex?
TheTimeline of Slang Words for the Vaginabegins in 1250, with the first recorded appearance of the (now-derogatory) word “cunt.” Fortunately, the vagina was eventually lavished with more poetic euphemisms, including “Venus’s honeypot” (early 1700s), “quim whiskers” (late 1800s), and, descriptively, “that thing” (early 1900s). The minds of vagina-label innovators apparently turned to food by the end of the 20th century, as evidenced by the monikers “bikini burger,” “hairy doughnut,” and “bacon sandwich.”
Thepenis slang timelinebegins with the year 1300 and the first known usage of the word “ballocks.” This term’s proved its worth via longevity; you can find it on the lips of frustrated Brits even today, with a slight vowel adjustment. And, English speakers only got more creative from there. “Fiddle,” “spindle,” and “pulling prick” all cropped up in the Middle Ages to describe the penis, while “bush-whacker,” “cranny hunter,” “fornicating engine,” and “Captain Standish” (yes, seriously) are just a few of the nicknames born at the turn of the 20th century. And, the sexy-talk walk through history doesn’t end there.
For even more linguistic amazingness, explore the charts that track the evolution of slang for intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, orgasm, bodily fluids, and contraception. In honor of this week’s #tbt, why not sprinkle some seriously old-timey diction into your sexting? While the effect would be most dramatic if you delivered your message by horse (or raven), your iPhone will do just fine. And, if your partner asks if you’d like to “navigate the windward passage,” just be sure to consult Green’s chart before you agree. It may be safer to stick with the word “fuck” — thatone’s been around since the 1500s, and still means the same exact thing.
101 Funny Slang Names for the Male Penis
Did you know that Inuit people have 50 different words for snow? It’s an indicator that snow is an important part of their lives and has been for a long time. That’s really telling when you think about how many words there are for a man’s genitals. While “penis” is the technical medical term, it’s the one we use the least. This list has 101 different names for your junk (that makes 102). You’ll get a laugh out of at least a few of them.
1. Womb Broom
Any ladies need help cleaning their closet? Ok, that might not make sense, but this is still a good one. 2. Womb Raider
We’d play all 20 installments of this game series. 3. Weapon of Ass Destruction
This one speaks for itself. 4. Vlad the Impaler
It’s a classic for a reason. 5. UncleReamus
This probably has British origins. They’re still the masters of dirty language. 6. Trouser Snake
Sometimes this is a euphemism. Sometimes it’s a terrifying camping story. 7. Tan Banana
This is only true for the bold. Some might find the prospect of a sunburned penis terrifying. 8. Sex Pistol
Which came first — the band or the slang term? 9. Russell the One-Eyed Muscle
If you can think of another name that rhymes with muscle, feel free to sub it. 10. One-Eyed Monster
There are a lot of “one-eyed” slang terms. It’s important to have variety. 11. One-Eyed Trouser Trout
Whoever decided to call a penis a trouser trout probably has an interesting story. 12.Rumpleforeskin
Be honest. You’re disappointed youdidn’t think of this first. 13. Richard and the Twins
Speaking of Richard, a kid called us a Richard Cranium once. It took us a while to get it. 14. Purple Helmeted Warrior of Love
Any reference to the dong being a purple helmet is gold in my book. 15. Puff the One-Eyed Dragon
It breathes fire when it gets puffed! Well, sort of. 16. PrinceEverhardof the Netherlands
This could also be the name of a band. Or an album! 17. Pleasure Pump
It’s accurate, simple, and effective. 18. Moby Dick
Every young boy in the world laughed the first time he heard this book title. It had to be on the list. 19. LordHardwick
Our penises are definitely nobility. How about yours? 20. Long Dong Silver
Have you ever read Treasure Island? Now you don’t have to! 21. Lap Rocket
Well, it can be explosive at times. 22.Knobgoblin
This has to be the most demeaning term you can level at another human being. 23. King Dong
I mean, obviously. Right? 24. Just-in Beaver
Easily the best thing to come from Bieber’s famed career. 25. Herman vonLongschlongenstein
Remember it’s pronounced “Stine” and not “Steen.”
26. Heat Seeking Moisture Missile If thisdoesn’t make you rethink everything about your own penis . . . 27. Frank n’ Beans It’s a weird mental image if you think about it too hard. 28. Fuck Puppet Right to the point! 29. Excalibur You’ve made this joke. Don’t lie. 30. Energizer Bunny That ad campaign has been around for a long time. So has this nickname. 31. Disco Stick This feels dated until you realize disco is still a thing in Europe. No, really. 32. TheDicktator You just chuckled, didn’t you? Welcome to your future. It’s all dad jokes from here. 33.Cocktapus If you have eight members, you need to see a doctor. Or a publicist. 34. Clam Hammer It even helps produce pearl necklaces. 35. Cave Hunter It’s not the funniest name on the list, but it still feels appropriate. 36. Blue Veined Aristocrat The little guy only has to be an aristocrat in public. Behind closed doors is another story. 37. Atomic Turtle We’re honestly not sure why it’s atomic, but it feels right. 38. Action Jackson Try not to conflate this with a Disney Channel show you watched as a young child. 39. Mutton Dagger There seems to be a recurring theme of objects that pierce and meat. 40. Yogurt Slinger An all-time classic. It’s funny. It’s gross. It has everything. 41. Meat Scepter Remember gents, mushroom stamps are a form of harassment. 42. Wedding Wrecker Oofa. This might be a little too true. 43. Spam Javelin Another meat piercer. Cool. 44. Tuna Torpedo The theme reigns. 45. Dora the Explorer It’s a joke that had to be made. But at what expense?! 46. Vagina Miner Is this a real occupation??? 47. Jurassic Pork You’ll never watch those movies the same way again. 48. Tiny Tim Hopefully, thisdoesn’t imply your Tiny Tim needs a crutch. Although, he probably has a nasty cough. 49. The Bone Ranger Hi-yo Silver! 50. Woody Womb Pecker At some point, you’re going to have to come to terms with your fear of children. 51. Ass Opener You might not believe it, but this is actually a very old nickname. It stems from the1890s. 52. Ass Wedge This is also from the1890s. It’s hard to say which is better. 53. Bayonet Does this make implications aboutBayonetta? 54. Beard Splitter Great. Now we’re associating vaginas with dwarves or some shit.
55. Best Leg of Three
This is just truth. 56. Brat Getter
Well, go get ‘em. 57. Bum Tickler
It’s ok if you giggled. It’s the right response. 58. Bush Whacker
This does not mean you should attach a hair trimmer to your penis. Put it down! 59. Creamy Hunter
Well, yeah. 60. Customs Officer
This is my new favorite. 61. Dr. Johnson
Let’s be real. The little guy has earned a title of respect. 62. Eye Opener
Sometimes it’s also an eye closer. 63. Father Confessor
If he can elicit cries to God, then this sounds about right. 64. Foreman
Yes, it’s a pun. You know you like it. 65. Lance of Love
An oldie but a goodie. 66. Leather Stretcher
Try not to associate this one withLeatherface. 67. Life Preserver
If someone is drowning, don’t throw them your penis. 68. The Heimlich
The next time someone shouts “Giver her the Heimlich!” You know what to do. 69. Love Dart
It’s important to practice your aim. 70.Manroot
This makes an odd amount of sense. 71. Master of Ceremonies
He’s good at it too. 72. Meat Skewer
This one isn’t trying too hard, is it? 73. Milkman
What does this make the milkman’s daughter? 74. Mole
He does like to burrow into a hole. 75. Pee-Wee
This got meta when Pee-Wee Herman got in trouble for showing his Pee-Wee.
76. Skyscraper You wish. 77.Tentpeg Youshouldn’t be pitching a tent right now . . . 78. Silent Flute Well, sometimes sound comes out. 79. Skin Flute But it’s not always melodic. 80. Sweetener If you tell this lie enough times it might actually work. 81. Redcap Maybepurplecapwould be better, but that’s not a pun. 82. Majesty Forget aristocracy! He’s royalty. 83. Charmer When the snake becomes the charmer . . . 84. Champion He really is. After all that abuse you’ve put him through, it’s the only right word. 85. Baby Fetcher You’re still flinching? You know where babies come from, right? 86. Axe If the female counterpart is called an axe wound, then this one has to be on the list. 87. Nightstick You can use it during the day too. It’s ok. 88. Joystick There might never have been a truer name for a man’s junk. 89. Gospel Pipe You just want to believe this one. 90. Drill I took this too literally once. I’m still dizzy. 91. Family Organ Get it? Eh? 92. Crown Jewels Also known as the family jewels. 93. Ham Bone I’ll never understand why the male member is associated with pork. 94. Old Boy This is actually the most British thing ever said. 95. Ambassador He is vital to foreign relations. 96. Organ Grinder Ouch. 97. Bald-Headed Sailor We probably don’t relate to the baldness of our penises enough. 98. One-Eyed Rattlesnake Thankfully he’s not venomous. 99. Tonsil Tickler Only on a good day. 100. Toothpick It might imply a small penis, but the oral connotation is worth it. 101. The Fantastic Four This name can be adapted to many forms: the furious five, the salacious six, the dirty dozen. The idea is that you’re implying the length of your penis in the joke. The key is to never use the same phrase twice. You want to keep people guessing.
Ten Words That Have Surprisingly Offensive Origins
While the etymology of many words we use today has faded into obscurity, there are some that are more offensive than we can ever imagine. There may be some words you use every day without a thought to their original meanings. Here are ten that it pays to be aware of.
noun | bug·ger | \ˈbə-gər, ˈbu̇-gər\
2. a worthless person
3. a small or annoying thing
eg. “put down my keys and now I can’t find the buggers”
As well as being a noun as described above, Australians tend to use this word as a tamer expletive than some of its four-lettered cousins. However, though many people know its secondary meaning as ‘a sodomite’ or ‘sodomy’, not many know that the word was originally racially charged as well. Bugger comes from Middle English bougre which was derived from Medieval Latin Bulgarus — a literal translation for ‘Bulgarian’. This came by through association with a Bulgarian religious sect called the Bogomils, whose ways were so unorthodox that they were accused of sodomy.
Use instead: Depending on the context in which you’re using the word, you might instead call someone a ‘nuisance’. If you’re use it as an expletive… well, there’s really no reason not to enjoy the four-lettered classics.
adjective | up·pi·ty | \ˈə-pə-tē\
•putting on or marked by airs of superiority, eg. “uppity technicians” “a small uppity country”
The word uppity is commonly used to put down someone who is seen to be acting above their station — putting on airs and speaking out of turn, generally being a nuisance. While the word can be applied to pretty much anyone these days, its origins were in the United States’ racist heyday, during segregation. In this period, Southerners used the term “uppity” to describe black people who didn’t know their place in society. The word doesn’t sound so casual anymore when you consider that people have likely been lynched at one point in history due to being too “uppity”.
Use instead: ‘Arrogant’ and ‘pretentious’ are both great words to knock someone down a peg, without those nasty racist overtones.
noun | \ˈjip\
•cheat, swindler, eg. “Is that all they give you? What a gyp!” “we were very disappointed when the “free weekend in Las Vegas” offer turned out to be a gyp”
“Gyp” or “gypped” has universally come to mean being cheated or swindled, and though there’s no solid evidence for the origin of this slang term, it’s highly likely that it is derived from ‘gypsy’, a derogative term for the Romani people. While many people know little of “gypsies” other than what we see in Disney movies and costume shops, the Romani people have a long history of persecution — including their attempted genocide at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.
Use instead: ‘Swindled’ is an oldie but a goodie, or if you’re feeling ripped off, ‘highway robbery’ is a fun phrase without the racist undertones.
#4 Paddy wagon
noun | pad·dy wagon | \ˈpa-dē-\
•an enclosed motortruck used by police to carry prisoners, eg. “The cooperative family was being escorted into the paddy wagon”
While the racist meaning of paddy wagon is more overt to anyone who stops to think about it, it’s also so ingrained in our lexicon that it’s hard to stop and think in the first place. For those who are blissfully unaware, paddy wagon is the slang term for a police car. And where it came from? “Paddy”, short for “Patrick”, was a pejorative term for any Irishman — a group who have been the butt of many jokes for much of the last century. Whether the term came into use because there were many Irish criminals or because of a large number of Irish policemen, the association is still not the best one to be making. Interestingly enough the similar term ‘meat wagon’ seems to be used by people misinterpreting this phrase as ‘patty wagon’.
Use instead: “Police car” or “police van” should suffice.
noun | hoo·li·gan | \ˈhü-li-gən\
%bull;a usually young man who does noisy and violent things as part of a group or gang, eg. “shouldn’t you hooligans be in school instead of threatening old ladies?”
While the term ‘hooligan’ is fairly dated these days — I can only seem to think of that crotchety old man yelling “you hooligans get off my lawn!” — other forms of the word are still in common usage. ‘Hooliganism’ in particular is one that the media seems keen to trot out as often as they can. But as in the case of ‘paddy wagon’ hooligan originally came from some poor sod’s surname — Houlihan. The name was used for a rowdy fictional Irish family in a popular drinking song, and soon after the word came to be a catchall for anyone displaying rowdy, violent tendencies.
Use instead: ‘Hoodlum’ is a word with a longer, non-racist history. ‘Hoon’ is also a uniquely Australian take on the concept.
noun | Es·ki·mo | \ˈes-kə-ˌmō\
•a member of a group of peoples of northern Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and eastern Siberia
Far from being those cute, fur-wearing, nose-kissing people of the Arctic regions, this is actually an offensive term for the Inuit people. The reason? The word ‘Eskimo’ comes from the Danish loanword ‘ashkimeq,’ literally translated to ‘eaters of raw meat’. Calling an extensive group of different societies by such a gross generalisation is a great way to limit understanding of the entire culture.
Use instead: The proper term is Inuit, meaning “the people”. That’s it, unless you know the proper name of each individual nation.
#7 Hip hip hooray!
•an exclamation of congratulations especially in response to a call for ‘Three cheers for’ the person.
The racist origin of this common celebratory cry is controversial, but it potentially stems from the Hep Hep Riots — anti-Semetic riots conducted throughout Germany in the 19th century. The participants in these demonstrations reportedly cheered “hep hep” as they chased Jews from their homes. “Hep hep” was a traditional German call that shepherds would use while herding their sheep, but was given another meaning entirely in 1819 when it was Jews who were hunted under this rallying cry.
Use instead: ‘Hooray’ by itself is completely harmless, or the more old-timey ‘hoorah’.
#8 No Can Do
informal + humorous
•used in speech to say that one cannot do something that he or she has been asked or told to do, eg. “Can you give me a ride to work tomorrow?” “Sorry— no can do. My car is in the shop.”
The game of Chinese Whispers has been renamed in the past few years for its racist connotations, but few know that the common phrase “no can do” is a similar riff on the idea that Chinese people speak broken English. While it has since moved into common parlance, this phrase was originally used as a mimicry of a Chinese person with a heavy accent — and the same is true of ‘long time, no see’.
Use instead: Going back to the origin of the phrase “I can’t” or “I can’t do it” would be your safest option.
#9 Basket case
1. a person who is very nervous, tired, etc., and is not able to think or act normally
2. something (such as a company or a government) that is in very bad condition and close to failure
eg. “I was so worried about losing my job that I was a complete basket case.”
Oddly enough the term basket case is not commonly used by its dictionary meaning today, and seems to now have connotations of someone being crazy (perhaps being mixed up with terms like head case and mental case). As it was originally used, however, a basket case refers to someone who is useless or not functioning well. The reason for this has its origins in WWI, when a ‘basket case’ was someone who had lost all four limbs and therefore had to be carried around in a basket. Not the best mental image and potentially offensive to amputees.
Use instead: ‘Nervous wreck’ or ‘bundle of nerves’ are nicely evocative terms that don’t risk making fun of quadruple amputees.
noun | hys·te·ria | \his-ˈter-ē-ə, -ˈtir-\
1. a state in which your emotions (such as fear) are so strong that you behave in an uncontrolled way
2. a situation in which many people behave or react in an extreme or uncontrolled way because of fear, anger, etc.
eg. “A few of the children began to scream, and soon they were all caught up in the hysteria.”
Hysterical’s modern usage is problematic enough by itself, with the word most often being applied to women — looking at the first dictionary definition, you might be able to tell why that’s an issue. However the connotations behind calling a woman ‘hysterical’ have far-reaching implications beyond even the 2011 film Hysteria.
The term comes from the Greek ‘hysterikos’, meaning ‘of the womb’ or ‘suffering in the womb’. The Greeks believed that the uterus was the direct cause of a number of female ailments, based on the premise that the uterus was essentially its own organism. The womb was said to be so obsessed with creating children that it would wander the body, pressing up against other organs and causing medical havoc unless it was pregnant. Yup.
Use instead: Try ‘overwrought’, ‘frenzied’ or ‘agitated’ if you really have to call someone ‘hysterical’ without resorting to womb-based comparisons.