There are three definitions of the word "gay" in the dictionary that calls the corner of my desk in the Times' newsroom home. The first definition reads "joyous and lively; merry." The second definition is "bright; brilliant." Finally, the third definition of "gay" reads, "homosexual – a homosexual."
Given how the word "gay" seems to pop up in prominent fashion on a daily basis in our society these days, most people would probably think the numerical order of that trio of definitions for the term would or should be reversed. It's a fairly safe bet that 99 times out of 100 that the term "gay" is uttered or written in our society, it's not in reference to something that's joyous, lively, merry, bright or brilliant. Most often, it’s a reference to something that has to do with homosexuality.
"I adore your blouse! It's so gay!" It just doesn't happen.
But a long, long time ago, when homosexuality for the most part was tucked away in the closet, a Christmas carol dating back to the 1800s, none other than "Deck the Halls," could include the lyrics, "Don we now our gay apparel" and no one raised an eyebrow.
Even today, the song is so popular every holiday season, you'd have to either be pretty young or mighty immature to giggle when you come across those famous lyrics. It's "Deck the Halls" we're talking about here; it's earned it's lofty perch in the Christmas carol hierarchy.
Try telling that to Hallmark. The corporate greeting card giant – which simply refused to be satisfied with making mountains of cash from the sales of birthday cards and wedding anniversary cards and, therefore, oversaw the creation of a special occasion deemed worthy by some of buying cheesy cards and gifts on almost every day on the calendar – thinks otherwise.
Citing the more contemporary view of the definition of "gay,” Hallmark's "Holiday Sweater" ornament for the upcoming holiday season includes the famous line from "Deck the Halls," but "gay” apparel is now "fun" apparel.
The decision to change that single word stirred the pot a bit. A mini-backlash erupted against the $4 billion business founded in 1910. Hallmark defended its decision, saying this year's ornament was created in the “spirit of fun." That explanation makes sense on a certain level, one could argue, because it's not like they're going to say they created the ornament in the "spirit of gay."
Hallmark may indeed be ripe for criticism over this “fun apparel” thing but, what are you going to do? Give American Greetings your hard-earned money when it’s time to buy your friend a card on Left-Handed People with a Lisp Day? I'll let others fly off the handle as part of their effort to either make a legitimate point against Hallmark, or bask in the glow of their own self-righteous spotlight.
Page 2 of 2 - But, before I move on, let me just mention this: When I'm searching for a birthday or wedding anniversary card for my wife, if I open up another Hallmark card to find a reference inside to my spouse not only being my "best friend" but also my "lover," well...my dark soul could become capable of some awfully bleak behavior.
Now...about the word “fun,” because that's where Hallmark, in making the decision to change the wording on its ornament, has taken our society by the hand and led us one rung further down the death spiral.
"Fun" is, quite simply, the most overused, bland, vanilla, gray, narcolepsy-inducing word in the English language. It describes nothing. It illustrates nothing. It shows nothing. And yet, it’s everywhere.
When I taught a freshman-level writing lab at UMC years ago, I asked my students to write a descriptive essay full of imagery that would make me, the reader, feel like I was right in the middle of the scene. It should be no longer than 500 words, I advised.
One student wrote about a vacation she'd taken with her family to a tropical paradise, but it topped 600 words and she was concerned. So we read through it together, and after I suggested that she delete her numerous "and it was fun" conclusions to about a dozen sentences describing various things she'd done on her family’s trip, her essay was a skeleton of its former self.
It was then that I truly realized the degree of assault that the word "fun" has unleashed on the art of communication, be it written or spoken. It’s the ultimate lazy-word crutch, worse than describing something as being “good” or “great.”
It’s just something to think about when you pull that awful Christmas sweater over your head one of these fine evenings, your static-charged hair leaps for the ceiling, and you venture off to another silly holiday-theme party with your spouse. Far be it from me to dampen your holiday cheer, however. Don’t tell the good folks at Hallmark, but in the timeless words of that modern, stone-age family, the Flinstones, I hope you have a “gay old time.”