Is Faggot a Decent Word or a Derogatory Expression?


The answer to this question is a “Yes” and a “No”.  How come?  Let me explain.  The reason for this ambivalent answer is a result of the constant evolution of the English language.  It is constantly changing the meaning of its words, as it were alive—live a living creature.  I’ve made this assertion before.

If you look up the word “faggot” in a dictionary worth its salt it will be defined as follows: [North America, offensive slang]  A disparaging term for a homosexual man; a gay man.  The expression is also shortened as “fag”.  But it also means a bundle of sticks and branches bound together or a package of several things tied together for carrying or storing.  The relationship between a bundle of sticks and a homosexual male is odd.  The explanation to this linguistic disparity leads us to our previous assertion that the English language is a living creature—always changing.

In the 12th and 13th century in Great Britain, the expression “faggot” meant a bundle of sticks.  Examples:  “A short distance further lay a little faggot of the same shoots bound together with a strip of bark.”—Typee by Herman Melville.  “He ordered his servants to bring in a faggot of sticks, and said to his eldest son: ‘Break it’—Fables by Aesop.  It was a burning implement used as kindle for a fire or a rustic broom for sweeping and sometimes used as whip.  The word “besom” which is an instrument for sweeping was also used, thus our modern word “broom” which we all obviously understand.

In the 15th century the meaning of the words changed slightly and was used as a pejorative expression for women.  Women were called faggots.  The view of the men of the time was that their wives were a burden, in the same way carrying a bundle of sticks can be a burden.

According to my research, in 1914 the word faggots was first used as a derogatory term for gay men; a generalized insult (fagula, fegula).   Currently the word is used as a derogatory term for gay men or as an informal way to tease somebody; so the meaning depends on the context the word is used.

This is one of many example of a language in permanent change.  The historical transformation of the word faggot is indeed admirable.  Good Day.

3 thoughts on “Is Faggot a Decent Word or a Derogatory Expression?”

  1. MIKE: I thought, “Oh, OK, that’s what you might do with a bundle of sticks, make some sort of burning implement out of it.” In fact, in the Middle Ages and, you know, well beyond, these bundles were often used as kindling for a fire, and they became very closely associated with the burning of heretics. But there were other things you might do with a bundle of sticks. You might fashion it into a whip for flailing people or a broom for sweeping.

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