Some LGBTQ Slang Terms from the Early '60s & Before: Revealing a Hidden Culture

posted by Madame Bubby

Cover of The Guild Dictionary of Homosexual Terms

In our archives, we carry a fascinating title called The Guild Dictionary of Homosexual Terms, which looks to be from the early to middle of the 1960s. Guild Press was a grounbreaking outfit as H. Lynn Womack was not afraid of being open about the audience of his diverse array of publications: gays and lesbians. He did not censor, he did not code, and by publishing this small book by one Dr. Albert Ellis, he claims that LGBTQ persons existed and still exist in history, and their cultural vocabulary developed under systemic oppression matters.

Now, some of the terms to a contemporary audience might seem degrading or even offensive or at least quaint, but that's part of the creative paradox of a vocabulary that is trying to linguistically interpret something as complex and fluid as sexual experience, and in this case, more so, as the persons who participated in non-heteronormative sexual experiences couldn't even speak of them or themselves.

Here are a few that I think give some insight into the hidden culture of that time, understanding that many of these terms were employed heterosexually as well, and used by heterosexuals to denigrate LGBTQ persons.

Abdicate: Forced to leave a public toilet by an attendant, said of male homosexuals who frequent public rests rooms. Thus, queens are forced to abdicate.

Central Park men's room, 1962
Central Park men's room, 1962 - Source:

Angel with a Dirty Face: A male homosexual who would like to indulge in homosexual practice but who is timid or hesitant about it. (Originated in mid-30s with motion picture Angels with Dirty Faces, a 1930s gangster film with James Cagney.)

Auntie: Middle-aged or aging male homosexual, usually (but not always) overly effeminate in character. The term can be applied either in a manner mildly derogatory or even as a term of slight affection.

Bugle Boy: Refers to the person who permits someone to perform fellation upon him. (Supposedly, according to the text, popular with the “sophisticated college set.”)

Checkers, Play: To move from seat to seat in a motion picture house in an effort to find a willing youth. A homosexual sits next to a likely “candidate” and makes some verbal or physical overture or “pass”; if rejected, he moves to another seat, and so on.

Chicago theater and other State Street theaters in Chicago, 1950

Fruit Picker: Term used to describe men who both think of themselves as “straight” and who are so considered by those who know them, but who seek out homosexuals for sexual gratification at the moment.

Motel Time: Can be used as a call to closing in a gay bar as part of “Suck up, everybody, it's motel time.” Now is the time to get down to sex and indicates where. Can also be used (alone) as a call to closing in a heterosexual bar.

Tampa, Florida gay bar, 1950s
Tampa, Florida gay bar, 1950s

Poundcake, To Eat: To lick the anus.

There's so much more in this little book, including some tidbits on some famous gay historical figures.

One wonders, not so much that some of the types of persons described above and even some of the scenarios are still part of the LGBTQ experience, but that we've developed new language for such persons and experiences in a markedly different social context. After all, what the book calls “green queens” still hang out in parks and forest preserves for public sex, but they often hook up via the ubiquitous smart phone.

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Talking Dirty: Is It Taboo Any More?


Museum of Euphemism cartoon

Are euphemisms for sex or bathroom actions becoming dead words?


Now, when types of slang words that have been stigmatized as obscene have become pretty much prevalent in a majority of social situations, why, to use another euphemism, beat around the bush?

In fact, that sound that bleeps out the offending words seems to be occurring more and more on television (on some reality shows, that sound seems to drown out the dialogue), perhaps showing we don't bother to even code anymore language that refers to those taboo sex/bathroom actions.

Too bad, I say, from just a creative standpoint. The richness and humor of coming up with ways to convey pooping and fucking ... it was a linguistic freedom that flourished within oppressive constraints, and some of the words mockingly confronted such oppression.

Here are some awesome euphemisms from The Big Book of Talking Dirty:

The Big Book of Talking Dirty

catch a horse (20thC) (Aus.) to urinate

fie for shame (19thC) the vagina; from the image of the vagina as something shameful

four­legged frolic (mid 19thC) sexual intercourse

gentleman of the back door (18thC) a homosexuality

get one's hair cut (20thC) to visit a woman for sex

give the Chinaman a music lesson (20thC) to urinate

give one's gravy (19thC) to give someone an orgasm

hundred­and­seventy­fiver (1990s) a homosexual (para. 175 of the German penal code outlawed homosexuality)

massaging the one eye'd monk (1990s) masturbation

Euphemisms for masturbation

One a much more serious note, there's one taboo area I still think we still use euphemisms for, because, in a time when any sign of aging can supposedly be quick­fixed by botox and billions of dollars are spent on prolonging life (not to be confused with finding cures for diseases): death. We're more and more uncomfortable with it, even when it happens naturally.

Often the young try, like the young of generations past, to sublimate their fear with a carpe diem attitude, or they end up scapegoating older people, inflicting a social death upon them, because they see in them their own future.

We all fuck and piss and shit and die: that's the reality all human culture confronts in a myriad of ways.

How many ways can you say that?

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