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Have a Gay Old Time
aka: Having A Gay Old Time

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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, as a result of "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, for example, a man might speak of his attraction to a "young girl", and everyone would understand he meant a woman in her 20s. Nowadays she'd be young, or a girl, but not both. Sometimes the expression still has an innocent meaning that is at least as valid as the naughty one,note  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", for instance, 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, for longer than you might think, writers have been employing that word deliberately in order to get crap past the radar.

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 "handicapped" to "disabled" to "physically challenged"; when terms like "handi-capable" and "differently abled" were proposed, it came across as too clunky and people generally agreed to stop messing with it. As of the mid-2010s, the treadmill turned again, and now "disabled" is again the preferred term.

Racist terminology is also a prime example of this. The infamous "nigger" (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 nigger 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 nigger by productions in which it is specifically used as a criticism/condemnation of racism (e.g. All in the Family, Blazing Saddles, and the Racist Word Association Interview sketch in Saturday Night Live's first season) is often misunderstood by modern audiences. Nowadays, even shows specifically about historic racism will avoid the word due to its baggage and triggering nature.

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, Harsher in Hindsight, 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 for historical slang whose meaning has been forgotten today, causing modern audiences to take the word at face value. Non-Nazi Swastika refers to when the trope is applied to Western culture (it was seen as a good luck symbol prior to World War II).

When an instance affected one of two related languages in the past, or affected both but with different new meanings, the result is a pair of false cognates.

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    Some victims of Have a Gay Old Time 
''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). The original meaning was still in common use as late as The '70s.
      • 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 '60s 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.
      • For a somewhat brief period, the early 1990s until the late 2000s, "Gay" could also be a pejorative term for anything the speaker didn't like, a slightly stronger version of "lame". As in the same period, the LGBTQ+ movement gained new ground in both legal rights and cultural visibility, the Unfortunate Implications of using "gay" in this fashion became more widely known in the English speaking world. Consequently, this use has fallen out of favor since the late 2000s-early 2010s, and is rarely if ever used in this way even now, making works from the era where it was common half an example of this, and half an example of Get Thee to a Nunnery depending on the context.
    • "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 LGBTQ+, 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.
      • As a side note, in Spanish (especially in Latin American countries) it uses the original Latin word for odd: puto, being a pejorative used to describe homosexual men in general. Its feminine connotation (puta) is used also pejoratively to call all kinds of sex workers.
    • 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. 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."
      • In the UK, there is also a foodstuff called "faggots"; essentially a meatball made with Offal, Pork and other meat, usually served in gravy.
      • 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."
      • Fag can also 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.
      • Fag is English slang shorthand for "Cigarette", though it has largely been replaced by variants of the word "Ciggie", which is far less offensive, and makes considerably more sense as shorthand.
    • "Coming out" is now short for "coming out of the closet," which is when someone publicly reveals that they're LGBTQ+. The term "come out" used to refer to upper-class young women 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," also known as a debutante ball, where the graduating class was presented as proper ladies.note  However, finishing schools became obsolete in the 1960s 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 in a ballgown. 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, a woman's "girlfriend" used to be her friend in a purely platonic sense, as in "Going to the movies with my girlfriends." But with same-gender romance being far more normalized today, straight women gradually phased out the term to avoid sounding like they mean something else. Nowadays a woman's female friends are either her girls or her friends, but not her girlfriends. Though you may hear it from older women for whom the habit stuck.
    • The gender-flip is in the process of happening in Quebecois French, where chum can mean both "male friend" and "male significant other," and straight men are more reticent these days about referring to mon chum, at least in the singular.
    • 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. Latin homo as a prefix becomes homi-, as in "homicide"). Since at least the '60s, 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.
      • In French spy terminology, the correct term for wetwork is "opération homo". In context, "homo" is short for "homicide" (which itself comes from the Latin word). Out of context, the term is kinda awkward in France, due to "homo" having exactly the same common meaning it has in English.
  • 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. Now it mostly means not merely a sexual partner but an adulterous one. For a while in the 1990s and 2000s, people in the LGBTQ community commonly used it to mean "person one is in a relationship with," with nothing illicit intended, but it's since been superseded in that sense by "partner."
  • Making love used to connote romance or courting, particularly with romantic talk, 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 "immediate", e.g. "I will come incontinently". It then turned to mean "uncontrollable", 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.
  • Ejaculate is from a Latin root meaning "throw" or "release", and has commonly been used as a different way of saying "exclaim". It now by default refers to 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.
  • 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 Spanish "molestar;". While "molest" is 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 horrible 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. Or 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, though the latter mixing can work in Canada (as it uses both meanings of "bum", though "butt" is increasingly the preferred term for "buttocks" as in the US).
  • 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 (as a result of this, Huy Fong sriracha, which has an image of a rooster on the bottle, is sometimes called "cock sauce", which some people may find funny).
      • 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.
      • Curiously, a similar phenomenon to what happened with the word "cock" in English also happened in Spain and Brazil. The Spanish word "polla" and the Portuguese word "pinto", both originally meaning chick (as in a baby chicken), became slang terms for penis in those two countries, respectively.
    • 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." These days, only DC Comics and the Tribune Content Agency can get away with a character who goes by "Dick", largely due to Grandfather Clause. Even as a (nick)name, it has fallen out of favor.
    • A wiener is a kind of sausage. Once that word became phallic slang, the names "Wiener" and "Weiner" weren't safe either. This one was inevitable, given that sausage has a phallic shape, and indeed the word "sausage" is also sometimes used as a euphemism for a penis.
      • 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.
    • "BBC" stood for the British Broadcasting Corporation long before it became the abbreviated form of slang for a certain type of man's penis.
  • 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 [or at least sounding like] 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 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.
  • 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, although the tool designed to carry it out is still much more often called a "boning" knife than a "deboning" one.
  • 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 1960s, 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 comes from Latin rapere, "seize", and didn't originally refer to sexual assault but instead to kidnapping, or occasionally even theft of inanimate objects. 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". Rapeseed (word from a Scottish English version of 'rope') is also a type of plant in the mustard and cabbage category use to make vegetable oil. Nowadays, most people just call it canola,note  or the only slightly better-sounding "rapeseed".note  Some people will use "rape" as slang 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,note  and were often used as shorthand for a person with mental retardation. The terms ended up becoming insults denoting a person who is exceptionally stupid, before they eventually became ableist slurs. 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 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.
      • In mathematical physics, very often an equation will have a 'retarded' solution (whose effects are delayed, as in the light from distant stars' infancies reaching us well after they've died) and an 'advanced' solution (theoretical tachyons which arrive before they're created, and an early version of one of Feynman's theories). For most purposes only the retarded solution is used since that's how reality seems to work.
  • 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, well, villains, 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 (which was featured in Robin Williams' portrayal of his museum figure in Night at the Museum). 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.
    • Ruffian also had a similar evolution in its definition, with its definition changing from "lover" to "pimp" to "aggressive person" over time.
  • 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. The modern words for right and left are derecho/a and izquierdo/a, respectively (the latter is derived from Basque).
  • Tranny was originally only known as a shortened version of "(vehicle) transmission" or "transistor (radio)". Later, it predominantly became used as a slur against transgender people. However, the non-offensive meanings are still occasionally used by people in relevant fields, which can cause problems when, for example, an auto mechanic is telling a transgender customer that they fixed their car's transmission.
  • Mistress was originally just the feminine form of "master" or "mister", though the words weren't exactly equivalent in meaning. Also a "mistress" could refer to a married man's female paramour, the true "mistress of his heart". 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. As noted by Terry Pratchett:
    Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
  • On a similar note terrible itself didn't always mean "really bad", but something more like "terrifying". 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, showing it also works to invoke Card-Carrying Villainy).
  • Companies and organizations rarely use rainbow imagery as a logo anymore, due to it now being the symbol of queer pride. Or if they do, they'll change it such as adding or removing a color from the basic six, have one color be out of order etc. Or even making it a (usually) temporary variant to show their support for their queer fan/customer base.
  • Demagogue originally just meant "a leader of the people", which is still its 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 its current meaning. That said, there were a few tyrants who were much beloved by their people.
  • Similarly, dictator originally meant someone who took complete control of the government and/or military for a limited time to deal with a crisis. It started to gain a negative connotation after Sulla appointed himself dictator and abolished the term limit, and was already considered negative by the time Julius Caesar became dictator.
  • Despot started out as simply a court title in the Byzantine Empire, often used to designate the emperor's heir-apparent. Today, however, it refers to an unaccountable autocrat, often one who has a very intrusive and uncompromising style of rule.
  • Passion originally meant "extreme pain and suffering", and comes from the Greek word pathos and Latin passiō, 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 possibly 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 (hence the X-Men villain Nimrod who is a mutant-hunting robot from the future). Millennia later, there were a few Looney Tunes cartoons where Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck 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". While that meaning of the word may have been around before then, it is now used a lot more often than the original.
  • While not extremely common, some people might occasionally use unicorn hunting as an idiom meaning "an impossible task". Today, the term has rapidly come to refer moreso to the practice of a heterosexual couple seeking a lesbian woman as a "third", especially in a pejorative context frowning on the clear predation.
  • Skank was originally the name of a dance common within the ska, ska punk, hardcore punk, reggae, drum and bass and other music scenes (but mostly associated with ska and ska punk). "Skank" today is a derogatory term used to refer to trashy women. Lampshaded in the I Voted for Kodos song "She Hates Ska", wherein the lead singer bemoans "If I ever asked her to skank / She'd probably think I called her one!"
  • Hook up used to mean "meet up with someone", or "to connect or install" (as in, "They hooked up my Internet connection") as late as The '90s, but now has come to almost exclusively mean either meeting for casual sex (although said original meaning is still a part of this sense of the term, as it expresses the concept that the partners met through social media or dating apps) or obtaining drugs, and by extension other items, in an covert or secret manner.
  • The word plantation originally meant a colony or a settlement, especially one founded via land grant from a monarch or government. Over time, however, especially in the United States, it became almost exclusively associated with large cash-crop farms worked by slave labor.
  • Fetish didn't originally refer to sexual fixation, but rather a religious or spiritual fixation. It was a term for an idol or graven image that was believed to have supernatural powers. It was typically applied to third world (particularly African) spiritual practices. Eventually "sexual fetishism" was used to refer to sexual fixation on an object, and this use overshadowed the original meaning in common language.
    • The derivative, fetishism can still refer to both a sexual or a religious fixation. However, it has negative connotations of having a creepy or unhealthy obsession.
  • Cream, as a verb, is dated slang for "to beat up" or "to thoroughly defeat." Now it often means "to have sex with" or "to ejaculate on or in.". The meaning of "to (literally) add cream to something", is still currently safe.
  • As a downplayed example: while a certain word beginning with C was never a polite word, it was originally much less offensive (roughly equal to "butt"). A lot of poets from the Middle Ages and Renaissance would casually drop it in their poems without raising an eyebrow. This is still largely the connotation in Australia.
  • Sissy was originally an affectionate slang word for "little sister". It didn't come to mean "an effeminate man" or just a wimp in general until the 1800s. It's also sometimes still used as a female nickname (E.G Sissy Spacek), but it's pretty rare these days.
  • Toilet used to mean a dressing table and, by extension, one's personal grooming. You'll find a lot of old paintings in which an elegant woman is primping herself, and it's titled, "Lady Such-and-Such at Her Toilet." The word also came to refer to the room in which said personal grooming took place, leading to it becoming a euphemism for the room in which people, uh, answered the call of nature, we'll say. Eventually, the euphemistic meaning took over completely, with the word "toiletries" surviving as an artifact of the older meaning. Most dictionaries will still define "toilet water" as a synonym for perfume or cologne, but you probably shouldn't try using the term that way nowadays (you can still do "eau de toilette" from French, though).
  • The word butt was a synonym for "barrel", usually a smallish one—the traditional compensation for the Poet Laureate of the U.K. was 'a butt of sack', meaning 'a cask of fortified white wine'.
  • At a certain point, the word pussy shifted from primarily meaning "cat" to meaning "vagina." The older meaning is guaranteed in "pussy cat", but most people think of the vagina thing first.
  • Forgery was originally just something made in a forge (such as iron tools) until it started to mean an impersonation meant to deceive people. The word "artifice" and especially "artificial" evolved similarly, originally meaning "demonstrating cunning and cleverness" but now carries the same notion of deception and/or falseness.
  • Outlandish once meant "from a foreign land" but has now changed to mean "nonsensical".
  • Bastard was not always insulting, but just a descriptive term for a child born to unmarried parents. Of course, the stigma against such children led to the change in meaning/ connotation.
  • Despite being a largely fictional concept, space cadet, has fallen victim to this. In the context of many early science fiction stories, it could mean somebody training to be a (military) astronaut. More often than not, tho, it's a mocking term for somebody who is "spaced out" or distracted enough The Ditz, if not The Stoner outright.
  • The word cult was originally a neutral term for a group of people with shared beliefs. Nowadays, it has a very negative connotation, implying a coercive leadership that isolates its members from mainstream society. This connotation dates from the 1970s backlash against figures like Jim Jones.
  • Call a spade a spade originally just mean "don't beat around the bush" or "tell it like it is", and the word "spade" referred to the gardening tool. However, it eventually became racist, since "spade" then became a slur for a black person, in reference to the playing card symbol.
  • Lolita originally referred to a kind of aesthetic evocative of little girls. However, since a novel called Lolita came out, which involved a pedophile with inappropriate feelings for a girl by that name, this term has fallen out of fashion.

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Eastern European Animation

  • Hungarian Folk Tales: Though produced in 2008, "Pepper Pot Peter" kept the original story's terminology. Köcsög traditionally means jug or pot and is used in the story to denote the hero's diminutive size. But the word is more commonly used as a homophobic slur or a rude synonym of "jerk". The narrator doubling down on calling him a "little köcsög" in a cheeky tone brings this close to an intentional example. The English dub of course stays clear of all this.
  • The Blue Puppy, a 1976 Soviet cartoon, suffered possibly the most extreme case of this, enough to be the Russian Trope Namer. The cartoon is about the titular puppy getting bullied for his fur color, who then gets captured by the Evil Pirate and the Cunning Cat. He is then rescued by the Kind Sailor with whom he bonds with and they together defeat the Pirate after which the Puppy is accepted by everyone. The problem is that the word used to describe the Puppy's color (голубой) has later became a euphemism for a gay man, changing the message completely. The Kind Sailor's effeminate design and his flower motif don't help.


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Alternative Title(s): Having A Gay Old Time, Euphemism Treadmill


Smithers' gay weekend

Mr Burns suggests Smithers will get up to something gay this weekend. Smithers, who is the type of gay Mr. Burns isn't thinking of, laughs nervously.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / HaveAGayOldTime

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