I have based the core of my Polari vocabulary on Baker’s scholarship, for which I am most grateful, but it did seem to me that he was over-generous in his attribution of a number of words and phrases to Polari. For that reason, I have had to make an assessment of what I construed as Polari, and what was not, in my opinion, Polari, before then contributing my own extension to the lexicon. That is not to say that one may not use Cockney or other slang in Polari, for I am not being prescriptive in my exclusions.

First, I examined Baker’s rationale for the inclusion of certain words, and found that he relied almost exclusively on the dialogue found in the 1960s British radio programme “Round the Horne” for some words I would say are either doubtful or, strictly speaking, not Polari words at all. Now, it seemed to me that just because either the character Julian or Sandyused a particular word it was not sufficient reason to call that word Polari. After all, the programme was broadcast in English, not Polari. (When Jackie Mason liberally sprinkled his stand-up comic routine with Yiddish words, no one maintained that he was speaking Yiddish.) English with a smattering of Polari is thus nothing more than what I call Paumi Polari. For example, Baker concedes that “cossy” appears just “once as a Polari word in Round the Horne” (21). That is not enough for me to accept “cossy” as a pure Polari word. Growing up in Australia, I heard the word “cossie” all the time, something Baker himself concedes when he writes that the word is “frequently heard in Australian soap operas” (21). In fact, Chambers specifically calls “cossie” colloquial Australian (321). The same for “bod”, body, which I presume is listed in Baker because it was uttered in Round the Horne, but left kaudi and lukaudi as the Polari equivalents.

Second, a Polari word derived from Parlyaree, Romany or a blend is preferred to one derived from Cockney rhyming slang, so if both appeared in Baker, I privileged the former over the latter. Hence the omission of “dog and bone” (24) for palari-peip, “barnet” and “ends” for reir, etc. (I wonder what those people who think I live in a linguistic ivory tower make of the fact that one of the “languages” automatic teller machines in the East End of London are offering customers is Cockney, for three months at the end of 2009, at any rate. Banks, the epitome of capitalism, indulging in a bit of linguistic adventurism in order to get access to your “bladder of lard” [card]!) Cockney rhyming slang words were retained, however, if I could find no alternative, as in armernraux, “socks”. The idiom “color of his eyes”, used by nelli kween (his words, my spelling) Ian Lucas as the title of an essay, is Cockney rhyming slang for “penis size”, but in its current form it could hardly be called Polari, nor even Paumi Polari. It would be like saying that “fait accompli”, though used in English, is not French (although “crème de la crème” is a thoroughly English confection made up of French ingredients; the French say le gratin or le dessus du panier). For that reason, I have “Polarified” this idiom as dha tinta auv hir ogerlz, and have done the same to other idioms listed in the second, larger section of Baker’s book, “Dictionary of Gay Slang”, although I have given the standard English equivalent only if it can be summarised in one or two words.

Third, I omitted gay and other kinds of slang when there were already perfectly good Polari words for the same thing — often listed in Chambers (such as “tat”). Take another glaring example, “breast”. Baker lists no fewer than five so-called Polari words for this part of the anatomy: boob, foof, joob, nawk, willet. The word “boob” may be dismissed immediately, for it is in universal English use — I defy anyone to call this word Polari! (Baker also lists “nawk”, but Chambers explains that “nork” — or “norg”, as it is often heard in Australia among the general population — may derive from Norco Co-operative Ltd, butter manufacturers in New South Wales (978); I would have thought they were hardly the repository of Polari.) However, if I could not find a Polari word for such and such a concept I retained the word, as in dubi, “pill”, deriving from narcotic slang. (Although I could see no justification for “purple heart” being listed as a Polari term by Baker; it should have appeared in his general “Dictionary of Gay Slang”.) Similarly, I retained shoumf as the verb “to swallow” in a general sense, reserving the more Polari jhoojh for a sexual context. I also retained non-Polari slang words if they appeared in conjunction with one or more Polari words (bevvi-homi, nanti pautz in dha koubed, varda-vijhen). I Polarified the English component of such hybrid words, much as the French think nothing of naturalising English words, especially when they take on a slightly different meaning (e.g., fioul for “fuel oil”).

Last — and this is being at my most personal and unscientific — if my father ever used the word, a New Zealander who had never heard of Polari, and would never have dreamt using it if he had, then it was, in most cases, automatically discounted. I concede this is not a very professional or linguistic approach, but it does explain why “boobs” or “clobber” is not included here. “Boob” has already been dealt with, and “clobber” would have been disqualified anyway, for there are already Polari words for clothing (jhoojh is pure Polari, while drayjh is originally English slang but given a make-over with a typical Polari long-vowel displacement). I kept barni, however, even though “barney” is listed in Chambers and, in my part of the world at any rate, is quite common, because I failed to find a more appropriate and genuine Polari, Parlyaree or Romany word.

I applied the same measures for all other sources. I did not include a term if the source was unable to furnish a meaning, as “dredge”, found in Young, for instance.


Expansion of Vocabulary:


I have worked extensively on expanding the vocabulary. I came up with all sorts of extensions to existing meanings (identified by °), such as rozi as a verb, or the second meaning of bilidu as a letter of any sort. In some cases, I simply utilised what was already there. For example, kakeling fart is given as an egg in Baker, whereas I saw this immediately as a contracted form for “hen’s egg”, i.e., kakeling [pelone-]cheetz fart, which is what we all do when we refer to eggs at the supermarket. In this way, fart is an egg and kakeling, or any other word is its attributive (chikerlz fart, bird’s egg). So, under the headword fart, one finds its first English equivalent is indeed “fart”, but then I have added “egg”. It is not so far-fetched to consider the second meaning an extension of the first, for both issue from the fundament, the former in a volatile flatus which may at times smell like rotten-egg gas.

A few other words used in Polari to have had their use expanded include, larda, paut and velvet. In the case of velvet, the fact that it may refer to “vulva” or a man’s anus is not so unusual. English contains the same ambiguity in “fanny”, for instance, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on. According to Hennig, the same ambiguity with regard to erogenous zones exists in French, where the slang panier, “basket”, may have derived from panil, which, as early as the thirteenth century, referred to both anus and vulva (also see in the etymology for “koul”, below).

From looking at words that already existed in Polari, but perhaps in a different context or in a limited use, I proceeded to augment the vocabulary by taking words from Polari’s traditional etymological sources: thieves’ Cant, Italian, Romany and Yiddish, and, in a very limited way, Anglo-Indian (all identified by an asterisk),* some words of which have entered popular parlance (such as “palaver”). Baker quoted some words as Polari that I have replaced with other words from one of these source languages, or combined with existing Polari words, for they did not seem particularly Polari — or even gay — to me. Hence, I propose janka for “billingsgate”, originally from Hindi “jhakna” and once used in Anglo-Indian slang (metathetically, the word now rhymes with “wanker”). I was going to propose hart-eek for “heartface”, too, but apart from the fact that it sounds too much like “heartache” (I am not that cynical!), I have decided to keep it as an example of gay slang used in Polari.

Initially, I was going to sprinkle some Esperanto in the mix to round out some vocabulary that I thought needed to be Polarified, even though Esperanto was never a part of Polari’s history of development. After all, if it was good enough for the signage in “Red Dwarf”, with its fair sprinkling of gay innuendo, I thought Esperanto would have been acceptable here. But in the end, I decided against straying so far from Polari’s roots. At any rate, I am not so sure Zamenhof would have approved. All this talk of Esperanto reminds me of an anecdote on a visit to George Bernard Shaw, who was most keen himself to reform English spelling along phonetic lines, by someone who had moved over to the Ido camp. He asked Shaw’s advice on an agent form for those who speak Ido. “ ‘Esperantist’ sounds so natural,” the visitor explained, “whereas ‘Idoist’ is rather difficult to say. What would you suggest?” “How about ‘Idiot’?” Shaw suggested.

Before I say goodbye to Esperanto, I would like to add that the title of Cat Stevens’ album Mona Bone Jakon had intrigued me for more than 30 years. It is not Esperanto, but I wondered if it was Ido or Novesperanto or some such offshoot. It never occurred to me that it might be Polari. Bona (or bonar, as Kenneth Williams wrote it, which in Nu-Polari is the comparative form of bona), is a common Polari word, but perhaps Cant accounted for the other two words. Cant Stevens? “Mona”, always with a capital M, is slang for money in Gayle, the gay slang of South Africa, but this is merely a faux ami. (A website finally solved the mystery — it is a neologism of Cat Stevens’ own making for his bagaja.)

I also expanded the meaning of certain words already found in a limited sense in Polari, such as arnt, as the opposite of nanti, or larda in the expression “narda ta varda in dha larda”. In this way, it was a natural extension to have larda, rather than “bulge” or “basket”, common gay slang words for crotch, or any of the other such myriad terms, to become the Polari word of choice, and for this reason it appears in the Vocabulary without an asterisk following it. In addition to extending meanings to existing Polari words or English words used in a Polari context, I used this existing vocabulary to calque and create quite a number of neologisms, such as rozi-cheet, which neologising could preoccupy one for quite some time, as well as patterned new terms on old ones, such as bona shoding (from bona vardering) or nab dha nab, patterned on English repetitions as “fight the fight”, “sing a song”, etc.

To show what I mean, allow me to illustrate lib, which was originally a Cant word, meaning either sleep or the place where one puts one’s head down to sleep. As Polari already has another word for sleep, letti (from Italian letto, bed), I have extended lib’s linguistic range to include sleeping rough and sleeping or resting for a bit, as well for the plea, Tip ya moudha a lib! (i.e., Give me a break!). Polari, in its unregulated unruliness, had both nish and nix for “no”, so I kept nix as it was but turned nish into a verb, meaning “to give up, to stop, to cease”. So, for example, the equivalent of “Stop talking!” would be Nish dha kakel! Polari had yet another word for no, “nishta”, which I have retained (as two words) for protest slogans and the like, equivalent to “no [to]” (Nish ta nu taxiz!) and signs (Nish ta voging, No smoking — compare that to nish dha voging, stop smoking). I have built up quite a vocabulary from Borrow’s list of Romany in his books, as well as coined a couple of neologisms of my own (milzermb’une and barberella — amazing restraint for someone who has created his own private language, Taneraic) and expanded the number system up to a million (see in “A Word or Two on Syntax”, below.) In addition to tip ya moudha a lib!, I have used tip, Cant for “give” (it is only in recent times that “tip”, meaning a gratuity, has become respectable, linguistically speaking; before then, it was always viewed with suspicion), in a number of expressions, such as tip dha nab tu, approve [of] (literally, give the nod to). Some people probably know it from “Tipping the Velvet”, the title of an English lesbian saga on television a few years ago, which is Polari for cunnilingus dressed up in (nonsensical) English. (Similarly, the Special Broadcast Service [SBS] television in Australia ran a video-clip pop music show called “Eat Carpet” for many years, which also means cunnilingus in slang. Speaking of titles, I am sure John Waters would agree that Roze Flemingoze sounds every bit as good as Pink Flamingos, if not better, due to the alliterating rhyme.)


* Borrowings adopted for this reconstruction of Polari are indicated by an asterisk after the headword only (e.g., dives*). Note that Polari words given extended meanings or even new meanings are indicated by a degree sign (°) after their English equivalents; however, Polari words used in new combinations are not specially marked (e.g., vardering vakarya), nor are words taken from Gayle. English words used in the body of the Vocabulary are also given their own entry, but are not specifically marked with an asterisk (e.g., att).


A Word or Two on Syntax:


The most notable feature of Polari is use of the redundant definite article, especially when English uses the indefinite article (voge dha dubi). The next most notable feature is Polari’s predilection for the paraphrase (hei in dha vauchi). Overall, Polari as she was spoke follows English syntax. However, with my proposition for an extension of the lexicon, along with an expansion of meaning of existing Polari words, I have come up with some changes worth mentioning:


Negation. Nix comes before the verb (nix iz for “is not”).


Numbers. Baker listed Polari numbers from one to twelve (just two fingers more than two hands, twelve being the magical phallometrical number), as well as the Parlyaree equivalents for six to nine, but that was it. I wanted the same limitless potential to count found in all natural languages, so I adapted two words from the Polari lexicon, laung and deja, changed the use of lepta, created a new meaning for jent and created new words for thousand, million and billion. As the Nu-Polari number system is independent from the English system, there is no question of simple substitution, but should be learned separately. The number system I have devised is logical, straightforward and easily mastered (although English has nothing on French tortuousness, such as quatrevingtun, 81; lit., four [times]-twenty-one).

Laung derives from a pidgin truncation of “bilong” used in Polari (Baker has “long dedger” for “eleven”). It has become the numeral ligative for numbers above ten in Nu-Polari, and is used in conjunction with


(a) the “teen” marker, lepta, for numbers between 11 & 19;

(b) the “ten” or “-ty” marker, deja, for numbers between 20 & 99; note the use of hyphens for numbers 1 to 9 — see in “Points to Consider”, below);

(c) the “hundred” marker, jent;

(d) the “thousand” marker, mili; &

(e) the “million” marker, milioni;

(f) the “billion” marker, bilioni.


Ordinal numbers are formed with “-ito” (from Romany; see in Morphology, below).




Morphology here refers to the shape of words and the changes they undergo with suffixation. The following is a guide, which looks daunting at first sight, but should feel “natural” to a native English speaker:


-a2–3. Words ending in (a) “a” ; (iv) “era” (rare) drop the final V & add “-era” (ova > overa); (b) (i) mute “e” drop the V & add “-a” (shute > shuta); (ii) “u” add “-re” (gardilu > gardilure); (iii) “ure” drop the V & add “-ra” (lure > lurra), or, as a variant, simply add “-a”; (iv) “ayr”, “eer”, “eir”, “eor”, “oyr” or “’ur” drop the V & add “-ra” (feir > feirra) , or, as a variant, simply add “-a”; (c) open “e” + C add an extra C & add “-a” (pek > pekka); (e) “ay”, “ee”, “ei”, “eo” or “oy” add “-r” (bee > beer); all other words simply add “-a”.

-ar3. Morphology as for –arjhio. Note that -ar is added to polyS adjs, including those with an existing adj. desin. (e.g., nellichudinoserar, more effeminate).

-arda. Morphology as for –arjhio

-arjhio. Words ending in (a) “a” or “era” drop the final letter(s) & add “-erarjhio” (pirpera > pirperarjhio); (b) mute “e” drop the V & add “-arjhio” (rome > romarjhio); (c) all other words simply add “-arjhio”.

-arst. Morphology as for –arjhio. Note that -arst is added to polyS adjs, including those with an existing adj. desin. (e.g., nellichudinoserarst, most effeminate).

-chud/e. Words ending in (a) “a” or C drop the final schwa & add “-ichude” (baj > bajichude); (b) med. or fin. “e” schwa double the C, to form a closed “e” on which the stress falls & add “-ichude” (mishoogena > mishoogennichude); (c) mute “e” drop the fin. V & add “-ichude” (kove > kovichude); (d) all other words simply add “-chude”.

-d. Words ending in (a) “a” drop the final schwa & add “-ed” (chinga > chinged); (b) mute “e” drop the final V [see (e) below] to become “-de” or “-te”, as the case may be (p’uche > p’uchte); (c) “e” schwa + C insert “r” & add “-d” or “-te”, as the case may be (fashen > fashernd); (d) (i) open “e” + “d” or “t” double the C & add –id (wed > weddid); (ii) open “e” + C (other than “d” or “t”) drop the final C & add “-dor-t”, as the case may be (lel > leld); (e) “o” add “-de” (flo > flode); (f) “ch”, “f”, “k”, “p”, “s”, “sh” “th”, “tz” or “x” take on “-t” (pich > picht); (g) (i) monoS “ed” add “-did” (wed > weddid); (ii) “n” derived from Eng. words ending in “nd” may add “-did” as an option closer to the original — or, as in the case of dreondid, illiterate — form, or simply add “-d” (peon > peond[id]); (h) “t” or consonant clusters, such as “kt” add “-id” (playt > playtid); (i) all other words simply add “-d”.

-eeni, –etta. Words ending in (a) “a” or “era” drop the final letter(s) & add “-ereeni” (bagaja > bagajereeni); (b) mute “e” drop the V & add “-eeni” (kove > koveeni); (c) “ee”, “eo”, “i” or “o” add “-leeni” (pogee > pogeeleeni); (d) “ei” or “u” add “-rreeni” (sku > skurreeni); (e) all other words simply add “-eenior “-etta”.

-ibelay. Words ending in (a) “a”, mute “e” or “i” drop the V & add “-ibelay” (bone > bonibelay); (b) “ee”, “ei”, “eo” or “oo” add “-belay” (gerbreo > gerbreobelay); (c) (i) single S with an open “e” or (ii) polyS schwa “e” double the C & add “-ibelay” (waulep > wauleppibelay); (d) all other words simply add “-ibelay”.

-ik, –ikel. Words ending in (a) “a” drop the final schwa & add “-ikor “-ikel” (drarma > drarmik); (b) mute “e” drop the V & add “-ikor “-ikel” (pube > pubik); (c) “ee”, “ei”, “i” or “o” add “-likor “-likel” (charo > charolik[el]); (d) fin. med. “e” schwa double the C, to form a closed “e” on which the stress falls & add “-ikor “-ikel” (numero > numerrik); (e) all other words simply add “-ikor “-ikel”.

-ing, –istik, –isto, –izmo. Words ending in (a) “a” or “era” drop the final letter(s) & add “-ering” , “-eristik” “-eristoor “-erizmo” (baula > baulering); (b) mute “e” drop the “e” & add “-ing” , “-istik” “-istoor “-izmo” (moge > moging); (c) monoS “e” + C add “-Cing” (pek > pekking); (d) all other words simply add “-ing”, “-istik” “-istoor “-izmo”.

-mentay, –mento. Words ending in (a) “a” or C drop the final schwa & add “-imentayor “-imento” (kaulera > kaulerimento); (b) med. or fin. “e” schwa double the C, to form a closed “e” on which the stress falls & add “-imentayor “-imento” (nafel > nafellimento); (c) mute “e” drop the fin. V & add “-imentayor “-imento” (kinyode > kinyodimento); (d) all other words simply add “-mentayor “-mento”. Note that in the case of pres. parts, the “-ing” is dropped & -[i]mentay is added to the stem (moging > mogimentay), and that for adjs ending in “-ernt”, the ending is dropped & -ementay is added to the stem (aparrernt > aparrementay).

-omi. (fem.: –dona/-pelone) Adjectives simply append –omi (often –homi before vowels); nouns appear in their plural or possessive form. (The difference between bugelomi and bugerlzomi serves to differentiate their meanings.)

-osa. Words ending in (a) “a” or “era” drop the final letter(s) & add “-erosa” (akwa > akwerosa); (b) mute “e” or “o” drop the V & add “-osa” (tule > tulosa, numero > numerosa); (c) (i) single S with an open “e” or (ii) polyS schwa “e” double the C & add “-osa” (wen > wennosa); (d) all other words simply add “-osa”.

-z. Words ending in (a) “a” drop the final schwa & add “-ez” (worta > wortez); (b) mute “e” drop the final V to become to become “-ze” (kove > kovze); (c) schwa “e” + C of more than one S insert “r” & add “-z” (houzben > houzbernz); (d) polyS “e” + CC drop the final C & add “-z” (mauntrell > mauntrelz); (e) “o” or “u” (including “eo”, but not “au” or “ou”, which never appear in final position) add “-ze” (kartzo > kartzoze); (f) “f”, “p” or “th” take on “-s” (mounth > mounths); (g) “o” or “u” before “f”, “p” or “th” add “-se” (h’upe > h’upse); (g) “k” drop the C & add “-x” (armaernrauk > armaernraux); (h) “ke” drop the C & add “-x-” (foke > foxe); (i) “ch”, “j”, “s”, “sh”, “tz”, “x” or “z” (with or without “o” or “u” before) take on “-iz” (arris > arrisiz); (j) all other words simply add “-z”.




I believe that Polari words commonly spelled even just one or two ways should adhere to the more phonetic system I propose (bona, good, rather than “bonar” or “boner”, although “boner” serendipitously injects a double entendre that would not have displeased Kenneth Williams, who in his diary wrote of “Bonar Shamshes” [Baker 53]). The key to understanding my proposal for Polari spelling is to recognise that it is based on sound, not shape. As such, etymological derivations and paronymous connections may be lost for greater phonetic accuracy. It is this loss that has held English back from reforming its spelling and defeated such luminaries as G. B. Shaw, author of Pygmalion, later to become Jay Lerner’s My Fair Lady (echoes of Emily Howard’s “I am a lady”!), for it would make hundreds of years of scientific, historical and creative literature almost unintelligible to the eye within a few generations. (Take “nature” and “natural”, for example. The former would be written “naycha”, to rhyme with Polari daycha, ten, while the latter, to conform with pronunciation, that is, sound, would be written “nachrel”.) However, the beauty of adopting such a system for Polari is that orthography has yet to be fixed.

Cocteau also said that it was “up to some poet […] to create and stabilise the language and give it a permanent form in writing” (Maalesh, 86). And so, in my own humble — and no doubt deeply flawed — way, I would like to start the ball rolling with my version of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style in Polari. To forestall any objections, I should say at the outset that no one has ever spoken or written Polari as I have set it out below. Perhaps it is time now to confess that one of the main reasons I have devoted so much time and energy to this project is so that I could see what one of my favorite poets looked like in Polari:


EXERCISE IN POLARI (after Queneau)


Shee wauz medza-dives. ’Una a dha troundeling kovze so shended dha troundeling cheet wauz a laung kank been-kove with a tray laung froumerjen. Standing ayjax hir, ya moudha kood varda dhat shee had a barberella eesaung ann poynti nelz ann wauz matlauking a k’uta a dha matlauking goum leik a bugel with a gayping m’ui. Shee dikt arris-sheesh in a shauka kapella with a k’uta a string reon hir in ten a riben. Poy moudha and in zee dhee adarjhio: A shauka mouj iz bonar dhan a kaud sheikel. So with sor dha bati-brays ordering aun, narda laung cheim ankora a barni pauged erbree betwixt dhis feeli-omi ann a beeflat founges with nanti reir. “Nishminiing aun ya moudhez pindroze!” dha feeli-omi bauberid akuzimentay. Aparrementay, evri cheim dhat foxe orded tu shenda or deeshenda dha troundeling cheet dhis baj omi minid aun dheyr loupez a dha pindroze. Dha fashen dhat shee reeaktid, dho, wouni wooda savid oup dhat dha baj omi wauz drayjhing sling-bax! (Moudha akchwellimentay varded: shee wauz drayjhing baytz, sheez reit, pero sanz armernraux!) Shee koodev beed wirsta, dho, for dha baj omi koodev beed fayking dha fogel-hounting or reefing hir, fa dhat dauli. Dha kaulerimentoze binkode oup. “Gardilu, pal! Nanti get bolde with moudha, jous arnt nel an nelliarda!” dha baj omi thretternd, azz dho shee wauz planing ta firikaduzera. Dha feeli-omi moustev savid oup dhat shee wauz bonar if shee nix chivid dha pelarva kwaun shee gaut swishing dhat dha founges nix wauz ordering ta daus alay. Shee palarid daus with P-r-r-r-ay-ay-ay-go!, poy leld a besh-cheet azz praunto azz dha charntz orded oup.

A pogeeleeni a cheimz arfta, moudha varded dhis saym been-kove in frount av dha keyr a dha boura troundeling cheetz kakeling tu a bona vardering an blarzay shvartza drayjhd oup in dha g’uli ogel-fayx, dha karo mauntrell, dha chayn brayslit a gildo-bar ann a gildi marteeni aun hir drei lapa (o vaf, kel groynarjhio!). Yor akchwel shwar! Hir reir wauz laung ann hir mounj mootzi wauz swishing an lish. Shee wauz drayjhing dha teit kafiz an kameesa. Moudha narda pauso varda if shee wauz naf or yor akchwel omi-pelone — u savi, in dha leif — pero moudha nix saviz oup dhat shee wauz aun dha bata or dheyr wauz enni imporchuning ordering aun or dhat shee wauz a houzben or dha bonze a dha been-kove. In noudha lavz, moudha nix gaut dheyr noumba. Enni-heo, nanti charpering omiz wir abeot, akoy-pero moudha nix dorkerst a klevvi if dhey leod dheyr lingz alay eech noudhez kirloze or lamord moudhez kauribounjes. Dha shvartza wauz standing dheyr, a g’uli voge bilaung Parliv’u aun hir ganz, tiping bona dha feeli-omi azz shee, dhat iz, dha feeli-omi, wauz jhoojhing hir self oup. “Sharda!” dha bona vardering omi palarid, fambeling tu hir kovze kapello (nix tu hir kapella, if u nix mei dauli!) ann palarid in aultray, “Varda, hart-fays, u orta siva a noudha krarfni aun ya lepell.” Dha feeli-omi nix leld bona hir lavz. “Ar-u mishooga? Dhis kapello kapt a hambageeni!” “Ann nanti moge?” dha shvartza palarid with an arris-oysta.


Points to Consider:


Apostrophes. English has been in the process of divesting itself of the apostrophe, both for the possessive case and for elision, for quite some time now, not just among the illiterate, but among the educated, with poets leading the charge. Confusion has arisen in cases where the apostrophe took the place of the preposition “for”, rather than “of”, as in “girls[’] high school” (i.e., “high school for girls”). The official Australian Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers obviates the problem of “apostrophe s” or “s apostrophe” in terms such as “driver’s licence/drivers’ licence” (as said in Australasia and North America) by recommending the omission of the apostrophe, and goes so far as to suggest that the “apostrophe in expressions of time is increasingly omitted when these contain a plural form, the words being regarded as compound nouns with sufficient adjectival force to make an apostrophe superfluous” (90), and proceeds to give a number of examples, such as “in ten years time” and “four weeks holiday”. Tell that to Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The zero tolerance approach to punctuation! Note, too, how the editors neatly avoided the controversy by not titling their work Authors[’], Editors[’] and Printers[’] Style Manual! And so Nu-Polari reflects this development toward zero marking the possessive case and elision by dropping it altogether (as seen in “Sheez Parniing dhee Omiz”).

Having said that, I did not manage to banish the apostrophe altogether, for I have had to resort to using it to show the following:


(a)             The absence of the palatal glide in long “u” words, a wholly Polari practice unrelated to English. It needed to be done, however, in the interests of sound, for some people now say “n’ude” and not “nude”, etc. The apostrophe is not used after “d” or “t”, for in less than careful speech, the following palatal glide often changes these letters to “j” and “ch” respectively. (Not just Americans say “dude” — to say “d-yu-de” would strike even the most conservative English speaker as odd or pretentious. Even the son of an English duke — d-yu-ke — imitates John Wayne’s pronunciation by saying “Put up your dukes!” when playing cowboys and Indians. For other exceptions, see Point 5, under Long Vowels, in “Orthography”, above);

(b)             The apostrophe is used before “r” to show the American pronunciation of the weak “r” (i.e., Australians and English say “korna”, corner, but Americans and Canadians say “kor’rner’r”). Admittedly, this looks quite clumsy but it will have to do for now when representing North American speech;

(c)             The apostrophe is used to separate long vowels ending in “r” from a following vowel sound (very rare).


Finally, I wanted to avoid the situation where two homonyms could be spelled differently; naturally, I wanted them to be spelled the same. So I had to change the past participles of verbs ending in “o” from “-’z”, as I originally had planned, to “-ze”, when I came across the homonyms shode and *sho’d. Now, all nouns and verbs ending in “o”, or other similar cases, take on “-de” and “-ze” respectively.)


Capitalisation. Polari generally follows English usage. Note that vocatives are always capitalised (Boyno!).


Hyphens. Hyphenation generally follows English. However, as there are no hard and fast rules in English, application of the hyphen can be erratic and may change from country to country, or even region to region (not to mention era to era; e.g., “to-day”). The hyphen must needs be standardised in Polari, with the following observations:

  • Nouns: Compound English nouns used in Polari are hyphened regardless. Compounding in Polari is often resisted, with a preference for the (unhyphened) phrasal noun (pelone a dha lati). Note that what may be two or more words in English are written as one in Polari, for neither word — or only one of the words — of the compound is a Polari word (milzermb’une — but sling-bax, as neither compound is Polari). Names of letters of the alphabet are spelled out in full (usually in lower case) and joined to other words by a hyphen (ex-ray).
  • Adjectives: Adjectives are hyphened to nouns when they form a single idea (a been kove, a young person > a been-kove, a youth). Nouns acting as adjectives are similarly hyphened (strilez-omi).
  • Verbs: Verbs in the interrogative are hyphened to their subject pronouns (Iz-shee? Palarved-u chaumeni?)
  • Prefixes that are whole words in themselves are hyphened when joined to other words (arris-).
  • Hyphens link the final numeral in a sequence of numbers (dui laung deja-tray). Note that hyphens link Parlyaree-based counting (say-dui).
  • Letters of the alphabet that are spelled out as words are hyphened (tee-bee-haych).


Hyphens are never used with past or present participles, except when affixed to form other parts of speech (bleeting-cheet-leik, meyrd-kove).




C, consonant

DC, double consonant

JB, Javant Biarujia (as coiner or author)

LV, long vowel

SC, single consonant

SV, short vowel

V, vowel

VC, vowel combination




Baker, Paul, Fantabulosa A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang.London/New York: Continuum, 2002

Borrow, George, Romano Lavo-Lil Word-Book of the Romany or, English Gypsy Language.Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1874 (reissued in 1982)

Butler, Montagu C., Esperanto–English Dictionary.London: British Esperanto Association (Inc.), 1967

Cage, Ken & Evans, Moyra, Gayle: the language of kinks and queens: a history and dictionary of gay language in South Africa. www.books.google.com.au

Cassell’s Italian–English English–Italian Dictionary.London: Cassell & Company Limited, 1958 (1967 edition, 1977 impression)

Chambers English Dictionary.Cambridge: W & R Chambers Limited, 1901 (1988 reprint)

Cory, Donald Webster, The Homosexual in America: A subjective approach. New York: Castle Books, 1951 (2nd edition, 1st printing, 1960)

Le Pennec, Marie-Françoise, Petit glossaire du langage érotique aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles.Paris: Éditions Borderie, 1979

Rasula, Jed & McCaffery, Steve (Eds), Imagining Language: An anthology (“Canting Vocabulary” by Richard Head, taken from The English Rogue, 1665, pp 67–74; “Harlem Jive” pp 86–90). Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 1998

Young, Hugh, Hugh Young’s Lexicon of Polari. www.2prestel.co.uk/cello/Polari.htm

Yule, Col. Henry & Burnell, A. C., Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases (1886). Calcutta/Allahabad/Bombay/Delhi: Rupa & Co., 1986 (1989 second impression)


Orthography has been based on an interpretation of the International Phonetic Association, using the English Pronouncing Dictionary by Daniel Jones as its basis. Other dictionaries consulted are Collins Robert French Dictionary, Kamus Indonesia Inggris (Indonesian–English Dictionary) by John M. Echols and Hassan Shadily, Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Partridge, Dictionnaire de la langue française by Émile Littré, A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary by Arthur Anthony Macdonnell and The Queen’s Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon by Bruce Rodgers. Other publications consulted are Chapter Three: “Speaking Gay Secrets”, in Hello Sailor!: The hidden history of gay life at sea by Paul Baker and Jo Stanley, Lavengro and The Romany Rye by George Borrow, Too Brief a Treat: The letters of Truman Capote by Truman Capote (edited by Gerald Clarke), The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley, parlez-vous franglais by Étiemble, Transgender Warriors: Making history from Joan of Arc to RuPaul by Leslie Feinberg, The Rear View: A brief and elegant history of bottoms through the ages by Jean-Luc Hennig, The Diaries of Paul Klee 1898–1918, edited by Felix Klee, Impertinent Decorum: Gay Theatrical Manoeuvres by Ian Lucas, Speaking in Queer Tongues: Globalization and Gay Language, edited by William Leap and Tom Boellstorff, Cow by Susan Hawthorne and Role Models by John Waters.

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