Have a Gay Old Time

How was this an accident, you ask? Time, good friends, time.

"Cock" is not dirty all the time, that's one of those words that's only partly filthy. Cock, if you're talking about the animal, it's perfectly all right! They used to read that to us from the Bible in third grade; and we would laugh… "cock" is in the Bible!

A cross between Accidental Innuendo and Unusual Euphemism. This trope occurs when "language drift"—natural changes in the common vocabulary—causes a word or phrase originally intended as wholly innocuous to be potentially taken as startling, confusing or just plain funny in a different time or place. Usually relates to sexual euphemisms, but can also involve other sensitive concepts. Political correctness sometimes comes into play.

Even very slight changes in usage can produce this effect; until recently, a man might speak of his attraction to a "young girl" and mean a twentysomething. Nowadays she'd be young, or a girl, but not both. And sometimes the expression still has an innocent meaning that is at least as valid as the naughty one, but now there are just too many people with their minds in the gutter.

Compare with Hilarious in Hindsight, of which this is arguably a Sub-Trope. See also Double Entendre or Intentionally Awkward Title for when this trope is invoked entirely intentionally, Separated by a Common Language for the spatial analogue, and Get Thee to a Nunnery for the reverse process.

Keep in mind that some of these words actually did have their modern meaning at the time they were used, but only within certain sections of the populace. The meaning of the word "gay" began to change as early as 1870 among the criminal classes of New York, where it originally meant "prostitute" (yes, before The Gay '90s); around 1900 the meaning changed to "homosexual prostitute" and within five years of that to simply "homosexual". This means that in some cases the writers are using the words deliberately in order to get crap past the radar. note 

Some of these examples result from the euphemism treadmill, whereby terms are repeatedly replaced as the previous word falls into such a state of misuse that it cannot be recovered. The words "idiot", "moron", and "imbecile" started as clinical terms, referring to people with IQs below 75, 50, and 25, respectively. As these terms fell into common use as insults, they were replaced by a kinder and gentler term: "retarded". Nowadays, "retarded" is considered so virulent that some people want it classified as hate speech. The term used to describe people with life-changing diseases or injuries followed a similar path, from "crippled" to "disabled" to "handicapped" to "physically challenged"; when terms like "handi-capable" and "differently abled" were proposed, it came across as Political Correctness Gone Mad and people generally agreed to stop messing with it.

Racist terminology is also a prime example of this. The infamous "N-word" (which is so virulent it cannot be even used clinically in many places anymore) used to be common language, even without racist overtones. For example, "nigger babies" used to be a name for a popular candy, while Agatha Christie even used the title Ten Little Niggers for her arguably most famous work; even back then the N-word was considered risky so it was retitled Ten Little Indians for US publication, which annoyed another group of people, so they eventually settled on And Then There Were None. Use of the N-word by productions in which it is specifically used as a criticism/condemnation of racism (e.g. All in the Family, Blazing Saddles) is often misunderstood by modern audiences.

Words changed meaning less frequently before the advent of radio and television, and when they did change, the transformation could be slow (as seen with "gay" above). It took over a hundred years for the primary meaning of the verb "want" to change from "lack" to "desire". Television sped things up: it took only a few weeks in the 70s for the meaning of "boob" to change from "dummy" to "breast" among the general public. Naturally, with the advent of the uncensored Internet, words can change meaning almost overnight these days.

Compare Values Dissonance, "Funny Aneurysm" Moment, and You Keep Using That Word (a common cause of this if it happens enough); see also Unfortunate Names, which sometimes result from this. Get Thee to a Nunnery is the inverse.

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    Some common causes of Have a Gay Old Time 

  • Several examples having to do with slang terms referencing homosexuality:
    • The Trope Namer is of course based on the word "gay", which once meant "happy, carefree, joyful". It started to take on its modern meaning in the 1930s, but continued to be used in its original sense throughout The '40s and The '50s (although frankly, the word was used so often, and so gratuitously, that one has to seriously wonder whether it all wasn't a case of Getting Crap Past the Radar).
    • "Queer" originally meant "strange or odd" and later came to refer to homosexuals, sometimes pejoratively and sometimes not. (Lately, this has been fluctuating as the cultural context shifts.) Nowadays, virtually no one uses the original meaning.
    • The word "faggot" used to mean bundles of wood—um, sticks—before becoming a pejorative term for homosexuals. In Britain, there is also a foodstuff called "faggots" which are a type of meatball. From the original term also came the word "fag," which, in Britain is a slang for cigarette but is basically considered "the other F-bomb" in the United States, which can lead to occasional unfortunate misunderstandings.
      • "Fag" was also slang at British public schools for a younger boy who essentially acted as a servant to an older boy. While this no doubt included sexual favors in some cases, that wasn't the default assumption. Thus, it's not uncommon for a man in an older British work to say casually "Oh yes, I know him well—I was his fag at school."
      • The musical instrument known in English as bassoon is named "fagotto" in Italian and "Fagott" in German. It's common to see these terms abbreviated in scores as "Fag."
    • "Come out" is now short for "come out of the closet," which refers to telling others that you're gay. However, it was a custom for young women of noble or wealthy classes to "come out" formally into society, meaning they were eligible for marriage and otherwise treated as adult women. So in many things from the 1800s to about the 1930s, you'll hear talk over whether Miss Such-and-So has "come out", or references to a "coming-out party."
      • In recent years, "come out" is sometimes used for revealing secrets other than homosexuality, although "come out of the closet" still means the same thing.
  • The word "lover" used to mean one's significant other and had nothing to do with whether the two were sexually active. (This is still the case in Japan.) The term used for a sexual partner was "paramour".
  • "Making love" used to connote romance or courting before it became a more genteel phrase for sexual intercourse.
  • "Incontinent" in the time of Shakespeare meant "immediately", e.g. "I will come incontinently". It then turned to mean "uncontrollably", e.g. "Incontinent with rage". It then moved onto practically a medical diagnosis for someone with poor bladder and/or bowel control. Even the older meanings can cause trouble if mixed—"I will come to you uncontrollably" brings QWOP to mind.
  • "Ejaculated" used to be just a different way of saying "exclaimed". It is now a recognized term for sexual release. QI, as ever, covered this.
    • "Cum" borders on this. It could either be Latin for "with", e.g. "cum laude" (with honors); or a corrupted synonym of "come" for ejaculatory fluid.
  • "Aroused" was originally interchangeable with "roused", but after acquiring sexual connotations this is definitely no longer the case. However, it is still technically possible to arouse someone (as in "arouse someone's anger") without being sexy.
  • "Molest" used to mean "harass" or "annoy", without the more specific modern connotation of sexual assault. One can still go about something "unmolested", however.
  • "Grope" used to mean just "touch", but it has connotations of creepy sexual touching nowadays. You can still "grope around" in the dark to find your way, but this trope can slip in if more than one person is there.
  • "Tramp" used to refer to bums, hobos, vagrants, drifters, or vagabonds. Today, its most common usage is as a derogatory term for sex workers and is synonymous with equally derogatory terms such as "slut", "harlot" or "whore".
    • Similarly, "bum" in British English. Apart from an archaic meaning of "bailiff" (used in one Agatha Christie story), until fairly recently it only had the "buttocks" meaning in Britain. Eagleland Osmosis means that the "tramp" meaning is now recognized as well. Conversely, the older meaning of "tramp" is still dominant in the UK.
      • "Bum" can be a verb in British English, and not in the American sense of "beg or borrow"; it means "sodomise". This means, amusingly, that you can US!bum a UK!fag, or UK!bum a US!fag, but neither phrase works quite right without borrowing a word usage from the other side of the Atlantic.
  • Penis euphemisms:
    • "Cock" originally referred to a rooster. It still does in some parts of Asia, where the word "rooster" is rare or unheard of, leading to confusion on both sides.
    • "Dick" originated as a male name and was sometimes used as a slang term for a detective.
    • A "wiener" is a kind of sausage. Once that word became phallic slang, the names "Wiener" and "Weiner" weren't safe either — one particularly hilarious incident involved a U.S. Congressional representative named Anthony Weiner who repeatedly got in trouble for sending women pictures of his...well...wiener.
  • "Boob" or "booby" meant a fool or silly person before it meant a woman's breast, and is still used that way in the phrase "booby trap" (i.e. a trap a gullible or stupid person would fall into) or "booby prize", but almost never by itself, unless referring to a kind of seabird.
  • In addition to "cock" (as in, a rooster) and "booby" (as in, a seabird), a number of other animal names have gained dirty colloquial meanings:
  • "Holocaust" originally meant a burnt offering made as a sacrifice to a deity in which the sacrificial animal was entirely burned (instead of some of the meat being eaten). Later, it meant any kind of destructive fire. Nowadays, the term automatically calls to mind The Holocaust. Even uncapitalized, the term still refers to mass-murder or a mass-casualty event on an extreme scale, such as genocide or Nuclear War.
  • "Boner" used to mean "silly mistake", but now it means "erection". In quite-clean older works you might be startled when a character says something like "Everyone is still laughing about my boner in the big game."
  • "Doing" someone has traditionally been gangster or assassin slang for killing someone (perhaps short for "doing them in"), but nowadays is more often thought of in terms of sexual intercourse. However, there are still informal senses such as the one of "doing" someone if you paint their portrait or perform an impersonation of them.
  • "Spunk" used to be synonymous with pluck, moxie, fight, and spirit - as in You Got Spunk. Nowadays, the term more often refers to semen and the ejaculation thereof. The aforementioned trope has mostly dropped the term as a result in favour of other synonyms.
  • The word "rape" didn't originally return to sexual assault but instead to kidnapping. The shift in meaning occurred because so often sexually assault was implied as with The Rape of the Sabine Women or phrase "rape and pillage".

Example sub-pages:

  • Other languages, German: A "Dirne" was simply a girl (and still is in dialect: cf. "Deern" and "Dirndl"). Nowadays it means a prostitute, but the word is so obsolete that it is only used semi-poetically even for that (akin to the English "harlot" and "strumpet"). "Wichsen" meant to apply shoe cream, but transfer by analogy shifted the standard meaning completely. "Geil" went ping-pong. A biological term first ("wild") the meaning turned first into "horny" and by overuse it now rather means "cool, groovy" or something like that.
  • With some words, the shift comes from a narrowing of the meaning. "Aroused" originally was just a past-tense version of "arise" and could be used to refer to all manner of raising, such as being awakened or having one's emotions stirred up, or rising sexual desire (usually accompanied with a physical rise in a certain part of the anatomy). Nowadays, nearly the only use for it is the sexual one, making the other uses in older works sound a bit funny. Likewise, "straight" originally could be the opposite of being morally crooked, strung out on drugs, or sexually devious. Nowadays, only the last definition is usually applied, and that usually only as opposed to homosexuality (though occasionally, one can still see it applied to other unconventional sexualities in warning labels on foreign works, e.g. "If you're straight and don't like incest, this manga is not for you.") Older works such as the TV special "Scared Straight" (about scaring kids out of juvenile delinquency and criminality) and drug-addled hippies talking about "getting my head straight" in movies may therefore seem rather, um… odd to contemporary viewers.
  • There is a Finnish educational video titled Muna on mukava juttu, "An egg is a nice thing", which tells about the health benefits of eggs. Unfortunately, showing the video to a school class is bound to cause some snickering due to the word "muna", "egg", also being a slang term for a penis. Make the word a plural and it either refers to multiple eggs or testicles. Cue laughter when one of the kids on the video instructs his friends to "take the eggs in your hands…"
    • Likewise, the Spanish word for "egg" is "huevo". "Huevos" both means "eggs", in the plural, and is used as a slang word for "testicles" in Spanish. Actually, "eggs" is a pretty common slang term for "testicles" worldwide: witnessnote  Eier in German and beiḍān (which specifically means "pair of eggs") in many Arabic dialects.
  • A filmstrip put out by the LDS church back in the 70s has a funny example of this in its Spanish translation. The filmstrip is an allegory comparing a caterpillar in its cocoon to the resurrection. At one point, the younger brother insists that the caterpillar must be dead since it's been inside its cocoon for so long. The older brother explains to the younger brother that these things just take time and that "pronto saldrá de su capullo y será una bella mariposa." Technically, that means "soon he'll come out of his cocoon and be a beautiful butterfly." However, taking into account certain slang terms, it can also mean "soon he'll come out of his foreskin and be a beautiful gay man."
  • The term "G-string" originally meant "a loincloth worn by American Indian men". Referring to the groin, then an inappropriate term for polite company. G-string was intentionally juxtaposed with the musical term.
  • The first Russian atlas was called "The Show of all the World". The word used to mean "show" back then now means "shame".
  • A 1972 paper by WD Hamilton on the evolution of altruism in insects uses the word "bisexual" to mean that a behavior is found in both sexes of a species. Nowadays the term is "unisex".
  • Apparently, a 1883 London Times article had this little line describing the role of a Bouncer:
    " 'The Bouncer' is merely the English 'chucker out'. When liberty verges on license and gaiety on wanton delirium, the Bouncer selects the gayest of the gay, and—bounces him!"
  • In the Flashman novels, the eponymous anti-hero uses genuine Victorian slang, in which "bouncers" are a coarse expression for female breasts.
  • Various tv shows, movies, and animes up to around the mid 90's would sometimes refer to Condominiums as condoms for short... after a few decades of that we realized what we were saying and started using 'condo' instead.
    • If this usage had continued, it would have given the Doom 2 level "Monster Condo" a whole new meaning.
  • XBox Live once suspended a Fort Gay, West Virginia resident for putting the town's name as his profile location. That user brought it up with customer service, trying to convince them that Fort Gay is a real location, and had nothing to do with sexual orientation.
    • This problem is a common one; for instance, in the British branch of AOL, it was (is?) difficult for residents of Scunthorpe, Penistone etc. to get accounts.
  • A long time ago, German men named Ignaz (from Ignatius) often got the nickname "Naz" or "Nazi". Guess why this stopped sometime during the twentieth century, especially with the latter nickname.
    • But in America at least, the nickname was probably pronounced "Nazzy" rather than "Notzee."
    • This hasn't stopped with "Naz" though. There is a female Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy character with Naz as a name.
    • This is actually the origin of the term "Nazi" as we know it. The name Ignaz is common in Bavaria, a region stereotypically associated with rural hicks, so "Nazi" (being a nickname for Ignaz) became a term for "yokel" in Germany. When the Nationalsozialistische ("National Socialist") party came along, its opponents shortened Nationalsozialistische to "Nazi" in order to insult them. It helped that the Nazi Party originated in Bavaria.
  • In the (German) opera Lohengrin, the title character insists upon being called the Leader rather than the Duke of Brabant. In the opera itself, the word Führer was originally used for "Leader" in performances. This was changed to Schützer for reasons that should be obvious.
  • George Gordon, 1st Duke of Gordon was known as "the Gay Gordon", primarily because of his many extramarital affairs, but also because of a general love of high life.
    • A popular Scottish ceilidh dance is called "The gay Gordons"
  • The word 'courtesan' is also a fine example. At one time, it was simply the word that applied to women who had a position at Court, just as 'courtier' applies to men. (It's from French courtisane or Italian cortigiana, which are simply the feminine forms of the words for 'courtier', courtisan or cortigiano.) Now...
    • This is brought up in Moonlight, when Mick tells Beth that Coraline used to be a courtesan in pre-Revolutionary France. Beth immediately assumes this means a "hooker", but Mick explains that it simply means a "lady of the court". However, Coraline does have a fleur-de-lis brand on her shoulder, which some assume means that she was a prostitute.
  • A French example: The verb baiser, which originally meant "to kiss," now only means "to fuck." (Confusingly, the noun un baiser still is just a kiss; the noun for "a fuck" is une baise. The modern verb for "to kiss" is embrasser.) Since this verb was obviously used abundantly in earlier times, it's very common to find it in old works of literature... and even old dictionaries, much to the dismay of students of French.
    • This may have been deliberately invoked in Hunter × Hunter, which actually has a character named Baise. Her power is to invoke intense sexual desire of any type she likes in any man by kissing him.
    • Likewise, nowadays embrasser is usually taken as meaning "to kiss", but etymologically it means "to take in one's arms". Those evolutions are related, by the way, as embrasser started to take its modern meaning to make up for baiser having increasingly vulgar connotations (all of this dates back from the second half of the 19th century).
  • Former MEP Godfrey Bloom of the far right UK Independence Party used this trope to justify remarks in which he referred to women who don't clean behind the fridge regularly as "sluts". His excuse was that the word "slut" apparently used to mean a lazy or slovenly woman. It didn't work, and Bloom was forced to resign.
  • When the term "black hole" came into vogue in the West in the 1960s, the older terms "collapsar", "collapsed star", or "frozen star" remained in use in Russia for some time longer. As it happens, the direct translation of "black hole" (Чёрная дыра/chornaya dyra) has a somewhat scatological meaning in Russian slang.
  • In computing, "to hack" used to refer to programming (said to be from the "hack-hack-hack" noise of typing on a Teletype 33 or one of its many clones). However, tabloid newspapers tend to abuse the term to mean penetration of security systems (for which the correct term is "cracking"). This is probably due to TRON, where Kevin Flynn in one early scene admits "I've been doing a little hacking" ("I've written a program to penetrate Encom"), which is easily misinterpreted as "I have penetrated Encom". Some organisations, such as the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the Inkscape Foundation, are trying to reclaim "hacking" in its original meaning.
  • In medical usage, a "thrill" means a pulse that can be detected with the fingertips, and "to feel for a thrill" thus means to search for the patient's pulse. This can lead to unfortunate double meanings depending on which part of the body the doctor is searching for a pulse, especially if it's a male doctor and a female patient.
  • Not extremely awkward, but before "cool" became a synonym for "hip", it meant cold. Confusion easily arises when, in older literature, a character who anything but is described as "cool" (when the writer meant to use it in a similar metaphorical sense as that assigned to "cold").

Alternative Title(s): Having A Gay Old Time