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Translating Gay by Raul Guerrero
Photo: What is the PC translation for gay?
President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage prompted the question: What’s the politically correct Spanish translation for gay? Though each nation in the Spanish-speaking world has a word, pato, duck, pájaro, bird, mariposa, butterfly, mano-quebrada, broke-wrist, afeminado, affeminate, invertido, reversed or inverted, puto, literally male whore, etc., the universally recognized, if derogatory, is marica or maricón.
The etymology of marica is María, a diminutive connoting woman. Maricón is an augmentative, literally meaning big-time marica—as casa is house and big house casón. The use marica for homosexual goes back to mediaeval times. Today, in addition to homosexual, it connotes lack of effort, aggressiveness, cowardice, even ineptitude. Playing soccer, for example, you miss an easy goal and your teammates will hammer you: ¡maricón!
So, how to translate gay? El Diccionario de la Real Academia Española has the answer: Gay is gay. Gay, adejetive, pertenenciente o relativo a la homosexualidad. Noun, homosexual man. Spain’s leading newspaper El País points out Romeny’s opposition al matrimonio gay. The plural form is los gais.
According to The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, gay derives from Old French gai. Early use is recorded in the sense of light-hearted and care-free. In the 18th century the word “developed the notion of addicted to social pleasures, often with an association to loose morality, as in gay Lothario.” Later it was associated to women living by prostitution. The use for homosexual, the adjective, dates to 1930’s prison slang, and the noun to the 1970’s.
By the way, the Webster Meridian Dictionary has altered its definition of marriage, the union of man and wife, to include same-sex unions. El Diccionario de la Real Academia Española remains intact: Unión de hombre y mujer concertada mediante determinados ritos o formalidades legales.
Raul Guerrero is a novelist and essayist, author of the novel INSOLENCE and more recently La dudosa fuga de la cronista LIBERTINA. He directs SalonEspanol.com.