I was intrigued to find the former President Nixon’s gaffe, “San Francisco is full of ‘fags’ and ‘decorators’” in an old article of Time (June 9, 2010) titled “A brief history of political profanity.”

It appears in the following statement:

“Richard Nixon holds the unofficial record for being the most openly profane U.S. President. - - In a taped 1971 conversation between the President and two of his sides, Nixon called Mexicans “dishonest, “ said that blacks lived “like a bunch of dogs” and that San Francisco was full of “fags” anddecorators.” And that was just one conversation.”

I’m curious to know why “fags” and “decorator” are placed in a pair and in parenthesis.

CED defines ‘decorator’ simply as “a person whose job is to paint the inside or outside of buildings and to do other related work. OED defines it as ‘Am Eng. a person whose job is to design interior of houses by choosing colors, carpet and furnishing. There’s nothing profane or derogative with the definitions of this word.

Does “decorator” have a special meaning other than the above definitions?

I’m interested to know how someone would respond to President Nixon’s usage of the word, ‘decorator’ in his comment, if he or she happened to be a decorator.

  • Here's the transcribed conversation it's probably referring to.
    – Hugo
    Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 21:59
  • 1
    'decorator' is not a synonym of 'gay/homosexual'. but it can be used as an insinuation.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 3:06
  • Yes, Mitch is right here. You could also use "hairdresser" with a similar connotation.
    – David
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 12:15

3 Answers 3


Well, I am not American, so I can only say what an English person might assume the phrase meant. Fag=gay man in US English (it means a cigarette in British English). Decorator possibly refers to the fact that gay men are sometimes thought to gravitate towards professions involving design? This may not be right. You probably need an American to explain this term.

  • 1
    My experience of British English seems to show that decorator in the British Isles can often refer to someone whom we'd call in the United States simply a painter or an interior painter. In the United States decorator is usually understood to refer to an interior decorator or an interior designer. I'm curious to know if decorator has that meaning in British English as well. Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 22:45
  • Yes, a decorator is someone who decorates the interior of a house, by, for example, putting up wall paper. "Painter and decorator" is a common phrase in England.
    – David
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 0:27
  • In the United States, we don't use decorator to mean the painter or the paper-hanger. Rather, decorator is always understood to be the person who does the planning and gives instructions to the painters, etc. Would decorator ever be understood in the UK in this way? Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 3:27
  • I should add that those whom we call decorators in the United States now seem to regard it as infra dig to be called that. They prefer to be called interior designers. Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 3:33

Given the context, "decorator" was most likely intended to be another derogatory comment about gay men, with the belief that this group tended to pursue less masculine occupations such as decorators. Of course, that was pure bigotry.

  • Probably stereotypical rather than "pure bigotry". There probably is a greater % of gay men in creative industries, although far from being 100%.
    – David
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 0:03
  • @David, Stereotypical - yes, but the context in which Nixon mentioned decorators was not complimentary, it was dismissive and derogatory. Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 1:15
  • 1
    Yes, you're right. Dismissive - but it is simply true that gay men are more likely to be in the creative industries. There is a real world out there beyond the strident and synthetic outrage of political correctness. PC is for people who refuse to think, love.
    – David
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 11:45

I've heard the term being used to describe someone who has poor interpersonal skills and prefers to shout and make a scene rather than solve problems calmly, like someone shouting at a clerk for not having something they wanted or shouting at a gate attendant for missing a flight. The term refers to that person's 'decorating' the entire place with their loud obnoxious behavior.

It was in an old Henry Rollins Spoken word set: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5gWzXnELRM

Never heard it used as a term for gay folks.

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