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Dimensions:
225 × 145 × 30 mm
320 pages
Format:
Hardback
ISBN:
9781789141320
Illustrations:
39 illustrations
Published:
01 Jul 2019
  • £15.99

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Fabulosa! The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language Paul Baker

Polari is a language that was used chiefly by gay men in the first half of the twentieth century. At a time when being gay could result in criminal prosecution – or worse – Polari offered its speakers a degree of public camouflage, a way of expressing humour, and a means of identification and of establishing a community. Its roots are colourful and varied – from Cant to Lingua Franca to prostitutes’ slang – and in the mid-1960s it was thrust into the limelight by the characters Julian and Sandy, voiced by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, on the BBC radio show Round the Horne. (‘Oh Mr Horne, how bona to vada your dolly old eke!’)

Paul Baker recounts the story of Polari with skill, erudition and tenderness. He traces its historical origins and describes its linguistic nuts and bolts, explores the ways and the environments in which it was spoken, explains the reasons for its decline, and tells of its unlikely re-emergence in the twenty-first century.

With a cast of drag queens and sailors, Dilly boys and macho clones, Fabulosa! is an essential document of recent history and a fascinating and fantastically readable account of this funny, filthy and ingenious language.

‘Though a language smacking of Carry On films and saucy seaside postcards, it’s the tragic torment and harassment that gave rise to Polari in the first place that must not be forgotten and which is why this book is important.’ — Daily Mail

‘As a fag-hag of some vintage, I enjoyed this illuminating look at Polari – a language used chiefly by gay men in the first half of the 20th century. There's a fascinating look at it origins, from Cant to lingua franca, and from Italian to Romany; and its usage, from slang spoken by prostitutes to perhaps its most celebrated outing, by characters Julian and Sandy in the classic 1960s radio show "Round the Horne".’ — The Bookseller, Editor's Choice

‘A fascinating and complex story, beautifully told with clarity, passion, and humour.’ — David Crystal, author of 'The Stories of English'

‘By turns deeply edifying and hugely entertaining and unusual for succeeding at being both – a future classic!’ — Damian Barr, author of 'Maggie and Me'

‘Shot through with his nicely dry wit, this is a fascinating and important study . . . Yes, Polari might seem a camp relic, but it’s a precious linguistic trace of generations for whom taking refuge in camp was a matter of survival.’ — Patrick Gale, author of 'A Place Called Winter'

‘Glorious! This fascinating account of Polari, the Lost Language of Queens, is utterly absorbing. It's history at its best: alive, vivid, fluid, warm, human and humane, and it gets as close as any book I've read to penetrating the mystery-wrapped-in-an-enigma that is camp. Not just fabulous. Not just fabulosa. But completely fan-tab-u-losa!’ — Neil McKenna, author of Fanny and Stella


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Paul Baker is Professor of English Language at Lancaster University. He has written 16 books including American and British English (2018) and, with Jo Stanley, Hello Sailor! (2003). He regularly gives talks and workshops about Polari and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.