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I was reading this answer to another question and came across the word campy (towards the end of the answer). I’ve definitely seen it used before to describe science fiction movies and shows but have never had a good definition of it. What does it mean and where does it come from?

3 Answers 3

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From the Urban Dictionary:

  1. “Camp” n. or “Campy” adj. refers to intentionally exaggerated thematic or genre elements, especially in television and motion picture mediums. “Camp” style willfully over-emphasizes certain elements of the genre or theme, creating an almost self-satirical milieu. Some of the most popular examples include the James Bond films (exaggeration of espionage activities) and the original Batman series starring Adam West.
  2. Being so extreme that it has an amusing and perversely sophisticated appeal.
  3. adj. overacted or exaggerated (sometimes purposely),
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    Urban Dictionary is notoriously unreliable.
    – MetaEd
    Aug 13, 2012 at 4:15
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    @ΜετάEd - Whether or not Urban Dictionary is, on the whole, unreliable, does not mean any one definition is or is not incorrect. In this case, that definition matches close enough to how I have understood the term that it seems correct to me. The point being that while Urban Dictionary has no authority, it still can be useful if someone happens to have posted a definition that is phrased in a way that works.
    – Questioner
    Aug 16, 2012 at 2:14
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    An answer should be supported by reliable authorities. Quoting Urban Dictionary does not make either it or you into one.
    – MetaEd
    Aug 16, 2012 at 4:09
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    @MetaEd Reliable authorities is of course preferred. But authority should not be used as a substitute for independent thinking and sense-making. The answer didn't purport to make itself or Urban Dictionary into an authority. It was merely information about what stood there, and as such, it was useful.
    – Magne
    May 28, 2021 at 14:47
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From the Partridge Dictionary of Slang:

campy adjective melodramatically and blatantly homosexual US, 1965

And from the NTC’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions:

camp

  1. something cute and out-of-fashion; something of such an anachronistic style as to be intriguing.

    • Camp is dull and was never interesting
    • My brother thinks camp is just a joke. Nobody really knows what style camp really is, and very few even care.
  2. over-done; out-of-fashion and intriguing.

    • Most camp entertainment is pretentious and overdrawn.
    • Who needs camp movies?
  3. having to do with homosexual persons and matters.

    • What a camp way of walking!
    • She is so camp, I could scream!
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    I generally am not a huge fan of answers that just jump straight to an unelaborated dictionary entry. Even the OED I find quite wrong on occasion. However, in this case the NTC one is far closer to the mark than the accepted answer (from the reliably unreliable UD). The important piece of info you won't find in either is that definition 3 above is the one most in use today.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 13, 2014 at 20:54
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I'd say that Bob and Alain have the two sides of the coin. It involves exaggeration, over-emphasis and satire, but usually with something out of style, eccentric, or ridiculous. In addition to the examples given, I'd add an artist friend who had a moose head over his desk at work.

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  • I would define it as "so bad that it's good (but often unintentionally)". Examples could include Plan 9 from Outer Space and the Batman TV series. In contrast, something like Airplane or The Rocky Horror Picture Show were deliberately done "badly" for humorous effect.
    – Phil Perry
    Jun 26, 2014 at 16:57

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