In Slang, to “Gay Marry” Is Legal

Posted by Mark Peters

Accepting gay marriage in language is more than just wordplay.

Eventually, according to my crystal ball, gay marriage will be legal everywhere. I predict that opposition to the civil right of marriage will be looked back at as vicious, repressive, dark-ages nonsense by our enlightened successors.But that golden age may be far off; we're still living in a time when batty objections to gay marriage flourish. Witness, for example, the idea that if we expand marriage beyond man-and-woman nuptials, anything could happen. Polygamy running amuck! Men marrying cats! Cat ladies marrying dogs! In short, marriage-pocalypse now.Well, the nutjobbers and bigots were right. Gay marriage does allow for unnatural unions undreamt of by the stars above or the giant spitting earthworms below-but only in the playful world of slang, where to gay marry has become an amusing idiom indeed. Check these examples out:"I going [sic] to do unspeakable things to this sandwich. Like gay-marry it."June 23, 2009, Alison Agosti, Twitter"gaston213 @everythingpre I'm so in love with Universal Search I might just try to gay marry it. Sigh."June 9, 2009, Gary Gaston, Twitter"Had to waylay. See, I'm a dirty whore for salsa. I'd gay-marry salsa if it was legal. When I run out of chips, I resort to drinking it."May 15, 2009, Andrew Kiraly, Las Vegas CityLife BlogsIt's the nature of language to colloquialize everything-look how fast hiking the Appalachian trail got picked up as a euphemism for infidelity-but this particular development is interesting both linguistically and culturally. The linguistic part was commented on last year by Stanford linguist Arnold Zwicky on Language Log, where he noted that gay-marry is a two-part back-formed verb (more on what that means here), spun off of gay marriage, just as free associate and bartend developed from free association and bartender. Zwicky found the new verb being used literally ("That's 41 states' worth of gays that need a place to gay marry and settle down.") as well as more fancifully ("Here are the best and worst of the week that was: the ideas, goods and people we want to gay marry … and the ones John McCain would appoint strict constitutionalist jurists to restrict our access to."). The earliest example of the second category I can find is from 2005: "I love football. If I could, I would gay marry it." (Sept. 11, 2005, Evan Kessler.)Gay-marrying football would make for quite a Sportscenter moment, but for even more fun with the term, Pinko Magazine gives the tired "What's Hot/What's Not?" feature a liberal-heathen spin: "Gay Marry It...or Abort It?" In a similar vein, "Marry, Boff, or Kill?" gets a makeover in Tres Sugar as "Do, Dump, or Gay Marry?" These variations are in the spirit of the familiar childhood taunt, "If you like X so much, why don't you marry it?" 30 Rock fanatics will recognize that the Tracy Jordan expression "I love X so much, I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant" serves the same function.A few years ago, the movie Brokeback Mountain gave rise to new common slang for all things homosexual. Gay-marry, interestingly, is pretty close to the opposite. The Brokeback trend inspired expressions like go all Brokeback and Brokeback marriage, which The Word Spy defines asBrokeback alluded to gayness and came to mean it literally, often in an insulting way.On the other hand, while gay marry literally means to marry someone of the same sex, it now also means to have an exaggerated enthusiasm for anything, with little implication of homosexuality, and no insult either. By email, linguist Zwicky agreed, saying, "gay marry seems to have picked up the positive connotations associated with weddings, especially the same-sex weddings that have gotten so much good press coverage (with people as pleased as anything to be getting married)."Underneath the slangy silliness, there is a significance to this trend: the colloquializing of gay marriage is one more sign of how comfortable many people are with the concept. Non-gay people (many of us, anyway) want to support gay marriage, and besides showing support in serious ways like voting, we can accept it in our slang. I may not want to marry a fellow dude, but I do want other dudes to be able to marry. It's on my mind enough that, like others, I might say I want to gay-marry the Three Floyd's Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. Or the fifth season of The Shield. I'd gay-marry them both at once, if I could. Such linguistic innovation is small, but it might show our collective heart is in the right place.