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Have a Gay Old Time

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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.

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 onenote , 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: "mentally retarded". After decades of that being used as an insult, "retarded" is now considered so offensive 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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NOTE: Please only list words or phrases that are way more commonly used with its vulgar definition than its original innocent definition that was commonly used back in the past. Clean words or phrases that happen to have dirty slang meanings simply aren't enough. (Also, this list is meant for common words or phrases. If you have one that's more specific or less known, it's better off in the "Other" folder.
  • 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 of "homosexual" in the 1930s, but continued to be used in its original sense throughout The '40s and The '50s (giving us things like "a gay little love melody" in works as late as 1959's Sleeping Beauty, although frankly, the word was used so often, and so gratuitously, that one has to seriously wonder if some of these later cases weren't deliberate attempts at Getting Crap Past the Radar).
      • You still won't find a nosegay in the Kama Sutra, but in a florist shop.note 
      • "Gay" even saw use as a girl's name up until the 60's or so. It was never too common, but more than one woman was named "Gay" and lived long enough for "I'm Gay" to take a totally different meaning. It is also a reasonably common surname of French origin. Sometimes people change the spelling to "Gey" or "Gaye" in order to avoid ridicule—though others revel in it.
    • "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 "Queer" has largely become an umbrella term for LGBT+, though some older people in the community disagree with using it that way, as they remember when it was a slur.
      • Saying "I'm queer for (blank)" used to mean "I have a strong liking for (blank)."
      • "He has gone down Queer Street" was Victorian slang for "he is so deeply in debt that he is never likely to repay it".
      • Actually, it retains its original meaning of "strange" dialectically in many parts of the United States (New England for example). This can lead to funny conversations with city slickers and British visitors.
    • The word "faggot" used to be an alternative spelling of "fagot", which means a bundle of sticks—before becoming a pejorative term for homosexuals as well as a vulgar insult in general. 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 the bassoon is named "fagotto" in Italian, "fagot" in Spanish, and "Fagott" in German. It's common to see these terms abbreviated in scores as "Fag."
      • There is another meaning for fag - to tire or weary by labor - which can be conjugated into 'fagging' and 'fagged'. It may have come from "fatigue". Commonly used during the earlier parts of the 20th century; unused and almost forgotten today.
    • "Coming out" is now short for "coming out of the closet," which is when someone publicly reveals that they're LGBT+. The term "coming out" used to refer to young women of upper class families graduating from finishing school, where they learned social etiquette, and could now be married and otherwise viewed as adult women. The occasion was celebrated with a "coming-out party", which was a formal ball where the graduating class was presented as proper ladiesnote . However, finishing schools became obsolete in the 1960's as it became more acceptable for women to go to college and pursue careers after high school rather than husbands. As a result, using "come out" in this manner has been forgotten in modern times.
      • This was parodied in MAD Magazine's "Then and Now" strip. "Lisa's Coming-Out Party" under "Then" was a girl dressed in a ball gown and being presented as a proper lady. Under "Now", she was a lesbian introducing her girlfriend to her parents.
      • 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.
    • Speaking of queer women, "girlfriend" used to refer to a woman's friend in a purely platonic sense, as in "Going to dinner and a show with my girlfriends." But with same-gender romance being far more normalized today, straight women gradually phased out the term to avoid people thinking they mean something else, and you only really hear of platonic girlfriends from older women for whom the habit stuck.
    • "Homo" can mean one of two things: either the Greek prefix homo-, meaning "the same" (for example, "homogeneous" basically means "the same throughout"); or the Latin "Homo", which can mean either a human being or the human species (this is where our species name, Homo sapiens, lit. "Thinking man," comes from). Since the nineties, however, homo on its own has come to be a shortening of "homosexual", which leads to many snickers in introductory biology classes where the instructor explains that every person in the room is technically a Homo, or is descended from the unfortunately named species Homo erectus (which contains another example on this list). Though the last example is inherently funny anyway.
      • Thus there is an episode of The Simpsons where Martin Prince gleefully tells Bart that the bone he found might be a fossil from “one of the major Homos!” to which Bart says, “You’re a major homo,” only for Lisa to tell him not to bother, since Martin is so naive and lacking social skills that he genuinely does not know the word’s more common meaning and thus won’t get the insult toward him. note 
      • The same fate has unfortunately occurred, though to a lesser degree, to the prefixes "hetero-"note , "bi-"note  and "trans-"note .
      • And in an interesting (read: mind numbingly stupid) twist, “cis”. It’s a Latin prefix which means the opposite of the Latin prefix “trans”, and became used first in academia to have an inverse but equal term to “transgender”, the same way as “homosexual” and “heterosexual” work. It then spread outside academia. However, since most people weren’t aware of “cis” meaning the opposite of “trans”, using “cisgender” leads to a lot of people of a certain kind flipping out in rage declaring they’re not “cisgender” and considering the word “made up” because they don’t understand what the word means (or don’t care to). Even when the term wasn’t in common usage and hadn’t been for 2000 years, this issue still happens.
      • An example of "cis" being used outside of the context of gender are cis fatsnote , in contrast to the more dangerous trans fatsnote .
  • The word "lover" used to mean nothing more than "fond friend" and had nothing to do with whether the two were romantically connected. (In early modern English it could even mean "ally".) The term used for a sexual partner back then was "paramour". The old use of the word survives in the West Country English dialect, where the phrase "Hello my lover!" is often used as a common greeting.
  • "Making love" used to connote romance or courting before it became a more genteel phrase for sexual intercourse, though most people still reserve "making love" for sex within a relationship as opposed to a casual hook-up.
  • "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. A fairly late example of the old use of the word can be found in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where the phrase "Ron ejaculated loudly" has become a bit of a minor internet meme as a result.
    • "Cum" borders on this. It could either be a Latin preposition for "with", e.g. "cum laude" (with honors), or a fancier way of saying "as well as," as in "a writer-cum-artist"; or, as it is mostly used nowadays, 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. In the US, the old meaning is actually coming back thanks to influence from Latin American Spanish "molestá". While "molest" used to refer only to rape or severe sexual assault, it can now be used of situations that aren't explicitly sexual. Though it usually invokes some sort of comparison to sexual assault such as "I feel molested by this horror story" or "he claims he was molested by aliens".
  • "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. Of if you happen to touch a vaguely humanoid object.
  • "Tramp" used to refer to bums, hobos, vagrants, drifters, or vagabonds (hence, for example, Lady and the Tramp). Today, its most common usage is as a derogatory term for promiscuous women and is synonymous with equally derogatory terms such as "slut", "harlot" or "whore". Hence "tramp stamp", on the logic that if such a tattoo is visible to the general public the bearer is a tramp.
    • 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. 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 (ask for a cigarette), or UK!bum a US!fag (have anal sex with a homosexual man), but neither phrase works quite right without borrowing a word usage from the other side of the Atlantic.
  • Penis euphemisms:
    • "Cock" means a number of things, the most dominantly used in American English certainly refers to the penis. However, its oldest meaning is "rooster" or male chicken. It can also mean a spirited, arrogant person. This can lead to confusion in certain parts of Asia where roosters are always referred to as cocks.
      • Bizarrely, in some parts of the American South up to the mid-20th century, "cock" was the common vulgar term for the vagina, which naturally led to some hilarious mix-ups when Southern males mingled with people from other parts of the country.
    • "Dick" originally meant "fellow" or "chap," but also used to be a slang term for "detective." While it's still used today in American English as a nickname for "Richard" and as a synonym for penis, it's unlikely to be used seriously as "fellow" or "detective."
    • A "wiener" is a kind of sausage. Once that word became phallic slang, the names "Wiener" and "Weiner" weren't safe either.
      • Wien is the German name for the capital city of Austria, (known in English as Vienna). As such, any person who comes from Wien, in German, is called a Wiener.note  This leads to plenty of things in Austria called the "Wiener X", such as the Wiener Philharmoniker, one of the most prestigious classical orchestras, or sports teams like the SC Wiener Neustadt, whose names may initially take English-speakers aback.
  • "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:
    • "Bitch" originally referred to female dogs that give birth to young puppies, but is now almost exclusively used as a vulgar insult, fairly often with sexist and gendered connotations—and as such is occasionally reclaimed by feminist organizations as a term of endearment. A Vocal Minority of dog breeders still swear by the term in its original context (the term now most often used in its stead is "dam" despite also being a swear), and it is sometimes used among veterinary personnel to refer specifically to an unspayed female dog, as this status is important for certain medical purposes. The term is still used in dog shows, causing some amusement to people watching.
    • "Jackass" or simply "ass" used to only mean "donkey", but is now an insult, or a slang term for the posterior in American English. The Angry Video Game Nerd had fun seeing how many instances of "ass" exist in The Bible. Similarly, the combination of a Bible quotes chatbot and an auto-censor script can be interesting.
      • The confusion between "ass" as donkey and "ass" as rear end occurs in a dialogue in the novel Tristram Shandy written from 1759 to 1769.
  • "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 (The literal meaning of the word is "burning everything"). 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. Of course, that last one still implies death by nuclear fire.
    • Even the use of the word to refer exclusively to a specific historical event (the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people and other minority groups) did not always refer to the specific incident we associate the term with today. Originally, the Historical event "The Holocaust" referred to was the Armenian Genocide, and became associated with the Nazi's genocide because it was so similar to the one committed by the Turks. The two events were originally "The Holocaust" (Turkey's crime) and "The Nazi Holocaust" until the scope of the horror of the latter started to eclipse the former. Now, when discussing the two events, it's "The Armenian Genocide" and "The Holocaust".
  • "Boner" used to mean "silly mistake" (or "boneheaded decision"), 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." Most famously, an entire Silver Age Batman Story about The Joker trying to have the “biggest boner”.
    • Similarly "bone" as a verb now usually means "to have sex with". Originally it meant "to remove the bones from" in the same way "skin" means "to remove the skin from". Nowadays most people use "debone" for that purpose.
  • And speaking of "erect", its original definition was "upright and straight", like a soldier at attention. It was also a verb meaning "to build". Thus, a building was sometimes referred to as "an erection". The verb "to erect" and the adjective "erect" are still often used in their original meanings. However the adjectival noun "erection" is exclusively dirty now.
  • "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.
  • Being "turned on" is now usually taken to mean "aroused by." Traditionally, it was simply a generic way of describing an interest or preference for something, as in "I'm feeling turned on by a lot of the food in this menu." In the 1960's, when Timothy Leary started out promoting LSD as beneficial for therapeutic psychiatry, things changed when he started promoting it for non-psychiatric reasons, with his "turn on, tune in, drop out" philosophy, with many of the New-Age Retro Hippie and flower child movements being "turned on" by this, and as a result, the FCC started to closely monitor the radio airwaves and ban songs that had the words "turn on" or some variation thereof, especially The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" with one of the verses saying "I'd love to turn you on". A variant of this survives today, when we speak of, say, a friend "turning you on" to a new TV series.
  • "Spunk" used to be synonymous with pluck, moxie, fight, and spirit - as in You Got Spunk. Nowadays, though mostly in Britain, the term more often refers to semen and the ejaculation thereof. The aforementioned trope has mostly dropped the term as a result in favor of other synonyms.
  • The word "rape" didn't originally refer to sexual assault but instead to kidnapping. The shift in meaning occurred because so often sexual assault was implied as with The Rape of the Sabine Women or phrase "Rape, Pillage, and Burn". Rape is also a type of plant in the mustard and cabbage category use to make vegetable oil. Nowadays, most people just call it canola, or the only slightly better sounding "rapeseed". Some people will use "rape" to mean "severely destroy or defeat", but it still carries the comparison of the action to sexual assault.
  • As mentioned in the introductory section, the words "idiot", "moron", and "imbecile" were originally medical terms which described the mental age of a mentally disabled person. Nowadays, all three are used as insults synonymous with "stupid".
    • Similarly, the words "retarded" and "retard" originally meant "slowed" and "to slow" respectively, and were often used as shorthand for a person with mental retardation. Nowadays, the terms are used as insults denoting a person who is exceptionally stupid. There's also a third use of "retardation" in music theory, referring to when one note of a chord is kept late through a Chord Progression and then steps up. Musicians these days either pronounce the word "retard" with an emphasis on the second syllable (to avoid calling their fellows stupid) or use the Italian "ritardando". Curiously, the word "retardant" retains its original meaning (a thing that slows or otherwise suppresses), and doesn't have any bad connotations. A modern use of the word with its original meaning intact can be found in aviation, where "retarding the throttle" (lowering it to slow the aircraft) is part of the landing procedure, and Airbus aircraft will audibly sound a callout of "RETARD, RETARD" shortly before the aircraft lands.
  • The word "villain", which is derived from the archaic "villein", originally referred to a lowly peasant or villager of free rank or a serf who acted as a lord's subject under the feudal system. As time progressed and the haughty upper-class people looked down on them, the word "villain" today usually refers to the Big Bad, and its older meaning of a villager, serf or lord's servant nowadays is found in Medieval Literature or William Shakespeare's dramas and literature. (Shakespeare was on the very cusp of the word starting to mean a bad person, as his plays have such lines like "one may smile, and smile, and be a villain" implying a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing rather than the "peasant" connotation, but also the use of "villain" as a generic insult for someone who isn't actually the baddie.)
  • "Bully" originally started out as a term of endearment meaning "sweetheart, lover". As time progressed, it changed to "fine fellow" and "blusterer" to an interjectional term of praise, and when someone like Theodore Roosevelt said something like "Bully!" it meant "bravo, excellent, top-notch, well done", or someone who was a brisk, dashing fellow. It was also used in England to refer to a fellow laborer and "bully beef" is still used in a different sense to refer to pickled, canned or corned beef. Nowadays, it refers to the rough intimidating kid who would take your lunch money or someone who would intimidate you with physical or sometimes emotional threats.
  • Whenever we hear the word "sinister", we usually think of it as a synonym for evil. In olden times, however, the word "sinister" originally referred to the left side of something, such as the left hand, with a number of superstitious people regarding southpaws as unlucky or cursed. In heraldry, when someone's coat of arms started off in the upper left hand corner (from the arms bearer's perspective, not the viewer's), a stripe or sash that started on the left hand shoulder would have people think that their birth was illegitimate. The older meaning of "sinister" is not entirely lost, since opthamologists and optometrists will use the abbreviation "O.S." for "oculus sinister", which simply means the left eye. Actually, it pretty much always had this meaning: as the Romans regarded the left side as extremely unlucky, the word "sinister" in Latin meant both "the left" and "suspicious, unlucky".
    • Even though the same thing happened in Spanish with the word "siniestra/o", there is an old idiom still somewhat in use: "A diestra y siniestra". It literally means "to right and left", and it allegedly originated from battle (killing enemies right and left). The original meanings -still present in the official Spanish dictionary- of diestra and siniestra are right and left respectively. Nowadays, diestro/a means that the person has dexterity, or that they are right-handed, and siniestro/a means the same as sinister in English, with the sole exception of the mentioned idiom.
  • "Tranny" used to be used as a short form for "transistor radio" or sometimes slang for a vehicle's transmission. Later it became just a shortening of transgender/transexual person before eventually becoming a slur.
  • "Mistress" was originally just the feminine form of "master," though the words weren't exactly equivalent in meaning. Also a "mistress" could refer to a married man's female paramour. It's occasionally still used in that sense, but nowadays most often refers to a female participant in an affair or a woman who's dominant in BDSM.
  • "Dame" technically just means "female knight" and is still used that way in Great Britain. In the early-mid 20th century it became a mildly derogatory slang term for a woman, though that definition has become dated as well.
  • "Sanctimonious" once meant "holy, devout, possessing sanctity"; nowadays, this meaning is forgotten, as people use it nowadays to refer to forced, insincere displays of moral superiority, synonymous with "self-righteous" and "holier-than-thou."
  • "Terrific" didn't originally mean great, it was initial a synonym for "terrifying" or "terrible". Most dictionaries still accept this as a secondary meaning, so it's still technically correct to say things like "a terrific tragedy", though most people will probably look at you funny.
  • On a similar note "terrible" itself didn't always mean "really bad", but something more like "fearsome". Still a pretty negative meaning, but calling someone terrible wasn't necessarily an insult (hence Ivan The Terrible having it as his title, or the Teen Titans villain Trigon The Terrible.)
  • Companies and organizations rarely use rainbow imagery as a logo anymore, due it now being the symbol of LGBT pride. Or if they do, they'll change it such as adding or removing a color from the basic 6, have one color be out of order, etc.
  • "Demagogue" originally just meant "a leader of the people", which is still it's literal meaning. Nowadays it has a very strong negative connotation, usually implying the person is a Manipulative Bastard at best and a crypto-fascist at worst.
  • "Tyrant" originally meant an unelected ruler, typically over a city-state, and was a neutral term. Granted, most tyrants were pretty nasty, which undoubtedly led to it's current meaning. That said, there were a few tyrants who were much beloved by their people.
  • "Passion" originally meant "extreme pain and suffering", and comes from the Greek word pathos and Latin Passio, rather than just any strong emotion, Hence "The Passion Of Christ". The word "compassion" retains this root, as it literally means "to suffer with".
  • One created by mistake: "Nimrod" is the name of a great hunter from The Bible, and was sometimes used (with a lowercase n) as a term for a person who is good at hunting. Unfortunately, there were a few Bugs Bunny cartoons where Bugs would sarcastically call Elmer Fudd "nimrod", meaning he was a terrible hunter. Due to the context most kids just assumed the word meant something like "moron", and eventually that became another meaning for the word, which is used a lot more often than the right one.

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  • 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. note 
  • 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 testicle. 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.
    • The Nahuatl word for avocado (āhuacatl) was also used in pre-Columbian Mexico to mean "testicle".
  • 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 lowest string on a violin, which is tuned to the G note).
  • Related to the above, "thong" originally meant "leather strap". Fashion-wise, it referred to basic sandals with a single strap that you slid between your first and second toes. Today, "thong" exclusively refers to risque underwear that goes between the buttcheeks, while thong sandals are now called "flip flops" and are conflated with slide sandals that you slide your feet into, as both styles make the same "flip-flop" noise while walking.
  • 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. Even the town's mayor tried to intervene, to no avail. Fortunately, the situation did eventually get reversed when Stephen Toulouse, the director of policy and enforcement for Xbox Live, personally intervened.
    • This problem is a common one; for instance, in the British branch of AOL, it was (is?) difficult for residents of Scunthorpe, Penistone, et cetera, to get accounts.
    • The residents of Gay Head, Massachusetts (on Martha's Vineyard), named after the brightly-colored cliffs surrounding its beach, voted to officially change the town's name to Aquinnah in 1997.
  • 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 hicksnote , 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 Spain, Nazareth is a common female name. And it was shortened to Nazi. In the XX century, all those poor girls found themselves looking for a new nickname. Desperately.
  • 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 (protector) 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".note  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).
    • In a different kind of evolution, the word "nyctalope" has kept its meaning of "able to see in the dark" intact… what changed, however, is that in modern French the word sounds almost identical to a phrase that means "f*ck your b*tch", making it very hard to use in a serious conversation. In the early 20th century there was actually a French superhero called "Le Nyctalope"; needless to say, no one would even think of publishing a comic under that name now, unless it's a satire.
  • 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. note  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.
    • Among programmers, hacking generally refers to a style of programming that favors speed of development and one-off solutions (which makes it favored by crackers) over careful design, stability, and reusability. It's best summarized by Facebook's "hacker way" philosophy of "move fast and break things". Thus, "a hack" is an often-derogatory term for a quick-and-dirty fix to a problem. But it has entered the popular lexicon more as "a cool trick to impress your friends".
  • 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 (as in, bland or unemotional). Confusion easily arises when, in older literature, a character who is anything but is described as "cool" (when the writer meant to use it in a similar metaphorical sense as that assigned to "cold").
  • In politics, terms now reserved for very bad leaders were once neutral terms. The term "despot" was a title given to members of the Byzantine royal family. A "tyrant" was an ancient Greek monarch who did not inherit his position. A "dictator" was a Roman official who held absolute power for six months during times of emergency.
  • The Nazis ruined many terms for the Germans. The term "Reich", once used to mean "state" or "realm", and still used in the Lord's Prayer, is now almost universally associated with the "Third Reich". The term "Fuehrer", which meant "leader" or "guide", is now associated exclusively with Hitler; other uses are found only in compound words. The term "Kamerad", meaning "comrade", having been adopted as a Nazi form of address, is no longer used outside of compound words such as Klassenkameraden (classmates). Even the Communists use "Genosse" where, in other languages, they use "comrade".
  • On a related note, a certain symbol which is now permanently associated with the Nazis was originally a positive symbol, typically used to represent good luck. (It also originated in India.)
  • The original usage of Pilot referred to sailor who guided ships through dangerous or congested waters. While it is still used in that sense the newer definition of aircraft pilot is a lot more common and the original usage can sound strange to modern ears (for example in Pirates of Penzance).
  • In Esperanto, the word gaja means "cheerful" or "merry". Take a wild guess where the term came from. note 
  • Supposedly, this was a major reason that Disney renamed their Euro Disney Resort theme park "Disneyland Resort Paris" in 2002. The park was first opened in 1992, when "Euro" was a perfectly innocent abbreviation for "European". Then in 2002, most of the European Union (including France) adopted the "euro" as their new currency, and it suddenly seemed pretty awkward that a major theme park had "euro" in its name — as if it was just an expensive place where guests could throw away their euros.
  • In Portugal, a money box, or any sort of small decorative box, is called a boceta. In Brazil, the world is, almost exclusively, a vulgar term for vagina (just like "box" is used in english), with caixa being the name for literal boxes. This leads to a lot of sophmoric giggling whenever someone reads an old text about "Pandora's box", or about a boy whose money "comes from his mother's money box".
  • Paragraph 96 of the Constitution of Norway used to include the sentence, "Pinligt Forhør maa ikke finde Sted". This says that interrogations can't be "pinlig", which means that the interrogators can't pressure you to confess. However, the modern meaning of "pinlig" is "embarrassing", so it sounds like a ban on embarrassing interrogations. This was finally changed when the Constitution was modernized in 2014: Paragraph 96 now says something else, and the prohibition on stuff like torture was moved to paragraph 93 (and, of course, no longer includes the word "pinlig").
  • "Boomer" once meant something that was large and/or notable, or, more uncommonly, it could be a name given to boys. It was then used to refer to people born in the Baby Boomer generation. It's also a Cold War era slang term for a submarine that launches nuclear missiles. Nowadays, it's commonly used by younger people as an insult against older and/or out-of-touch people, though it has roots in using the latter definition in a derogatory way.
  • When a Laurel and Hardy Appreciation Society was being set up, Stan Laurel himself suggested it be named "Boobs in the Woods". It was explained to him that the meaning of that word had changed over the years, and the society became "The Sons of the Desert" instead.
  • There is an Australian ice cream known as Golden Gaytime, colloquially shortened to just "Gaytime." This ice cream has long been a fixture in Australian popular culture, the word being very closely associated with the ice cream. This association has allowed "Gaytime" to remain intact in Australian speech up to the present day—at the expense of non-Australians, who might get confused as to why everyone is suddenly going to get together and "have some Gaytime."
  • The Western Illinois/Eastern Iowa ice cream brand Whitey's, is beloved by those in the region, and a source of amusement to tourists. The brand was founded in the 1930s, and "Whitey" was the founder's nickname, not because of his skin, but because of his hair.
  • There was a type of dish popular in 16th century England known as "Farts of Portingale" or "Portugeuse Farts".

Alternative Title(s): Having A Gay Old Time


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