According to the OED https://www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/67623) "faggot" and "fag", used to refer to gay men in a derogatory way are "originally and chiefly North American". And in this wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faggot_(slang)#Use_in_the_United_Kingdom it is claimed that

Use of fag and faggot as the term for an effeminate man has become understood as an Americanism in British English, primarily due to entertainment media use in films and television series imported from the United States.

This chimes with my experience. In much of my lifetime, in British English, "fag" was more commonly used to refer to a cigarette than it was used as a slur to refer to gay men; in fact, I have only begun to hear "fag" and "faggot" being used by native British English speakers in a derogatory manner in the last 12 or so years. In the past, "poof" or "poofter" were the words usually used to insult gay men in British English. I have the impression that this is changing.

I am thus wondering when the usage of "fag" and "faggot" as derogatory terms began to be more widespread in British English, as opposed to "poof" or "poofter", or other slurs.

British English speakers, or any English speakers who have lived in the UK since at least the 90's: when do you remember the terms "faggot" and "fag" becoming more commonly used as a slur against gay men in British English? Can you refer to a particular experience? Do you remember what kind of people tended to use the expression? (were they, for example, younger people?)


Someone below points out that "faggot" is used in the lyrics of the song "Money for Nothing", by British band Dire Straits. This is not incompatible with what I was observing in my question, for I only observed that, in my experience, "faggot" and "fag" used to be quite uncommon in British English as derogatory terms for gay men.

  • Related question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/377319/… – Xanne Jul 19 '20 at 21:42
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Matt E. Эллен Jul 28 '20 at 10:15
  • I want to connect some dots not otherwise mentioned. If a word means "a bundle of sticks for kindling," then calling a man kindling is telling him to burn, deserving of death. A milder etymology has it from faygele, Yiddish for little bird, or fairy. – Yosef Baskin Jan 18 at 23:10

I will not give a comprehensive answer but I offer you some online tools that you may not be aware of.

Google Ngram

Here you see the graph of search for "fag" and "faggot" in British English In it you will notice that "something" is happening around the mid to late 1800s. I haven't investigated. However there is a notable growth and peak centering around 2010, especially of "fag". If you want to see the actual texts in order to investigate the context and usage, you can click on dated links at the bottom of the page on the original graph. https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=fag%2Cfaggot&year_start=1800&year_end=2019&corpus=29&smoothing=3 - Clicking through will take you to the very useful

Google Books site where you can make further investigations.

enter image description here

Here is the link to a similar graph for American English

If you become familiar with using these resources, you can combine versions of English, change the time period and do other more subtle searches.


From these sites you can often discover

Old dictionaries with definitions as known at the time period.

For example:

Fag. # n.s. [from the verb.] . A slave; one who works hard. It is a colloquial expression; nor is fag, either as a verb or substantive in this sense, seriously used by good writers.

A Dictionary of the English Language: ..., Volume 2 By Samuel Johnson


EDIT in response to comment

One way to investigate further is to use

Online corpora

These will give you an idea of common contexts for the words. Two can be particularly recommended.

(1) The British National Corpus http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/using/index.xml?ID=simple

(2) American National Corpus https://www.semanticscholar.org/search?q=faggot&sort=relevance

These open up a whole world of research possibilities. They do however take considerable determination to wade through the documentation in order to discover how to do what. If you are sufficiently interested then its worth making the effort.

  • Is there a way to make the graph search for "fag" and "faggot" in British English more refined, so that it searches specifically for occurrences of these words in which they are used as slurs? – Edward.Lin Jul 19 '20 at 10:59
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    @Edward.Lin - There may be but I don't think it would be simple. Ngram and Google Books are not curated as far as I know. This means that they are purely computer searches and currently computers have no sense of what a slur is. There may be an existing list online (or you could make and publish one if your motivation is strong enough). I'll add something to my answer. – chasly - supports Monica Jul 19 '20 at 11:14
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    @chasly-reinstateMonica The trouble with the Ngram is that it will include all references to bundles of sticks, low grade meatballs, cigarettes, boring irritating tasks and public school juniors allocated to seniors as personal servants. I don't think it proves anything in terms of the question. – BoldBen Jul 19 '20 at 14:35
  • @BoldBen - Maybe you're right. In its raw form it doesn't. A full answer would take me a lot longer than I am willing to put in. I thought about submitting this as a comment but it was far too long. I therefore risked putting it as an answer. – chasly - supports Monica Jul 19 '20 at 14:39
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    I upvoted your question. It seems perfectly reasonable to me. Ah well, such is Stack Exchange. People down-vote for all sorts of reasons, often because someone has broken some arcane "rule" in the SE rule-book! I've learned to be thick-skinned and find ways through the maze. I still get down-voted quite often (as I did for this answer) – chasly - supports Monica Jul 19 '20 at 16:22

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