Friar John's Ruminations

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Friday, August 31, 2007

There is an oft repeated bit of data that the derivation of the term "Faggot" for gay men derives from the practice of throwing homosexuals on the pyres of witches/heretics. The problem is that, when I was researching the views on sexuality in the middle ages I couldn't actually find a reference to it in the scholarly literature. When I was combing through the inquisitional documents from the time period I also couldn't find a single reference. Same for the chronicles. None of these documents hesitated to mention any number of other practices, but this one was no where to be seen. Indeed, the uses in Europe tend that "faggot" and its cognates tend to mean "cigarette" or the more obscure use of a unit of measurement. The fact that the main root of American English (British English) has no reference to sexuality for the term is telling. The OED points out that use for a gay man is American in derivation, which is also quite telling.
Digging around I found that the derivation is kind of weird. The use of the term for a person meant "indigent old woman" and was a contraction of "faggot gatherer' (i.e.: a person who made money gathering wood).Probably the derivation of the term is from there. The source of the Urban Legend comes from a rather poorly written and researched book entitled Another Mother Tongue by Judy Grahn. <

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