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9 May 2011, 9:00 am 4 Comments

Commentary: Gays, Find a New Word For Good

This post was submitted by Michael

Fabulous Las Vegas. Image by Pobrien301 (Own work) Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The word “fabulous” is horribly ill. It actually called me up the other day, lying on its death bed, begging and pleading for me to help raise awareness of its fragile state. Confused, I asked Fabulous what was wrong and was saddened but not shocked to learn that it’s being dreadfully overused. Fabulous is worn so thin that it hardly carries any meaning any longer, and that’s when a word begins to fade and eventually die. I told Fabulous I’d do my best to help, and what follows is my humble attempt.

In modern English, it appears we have a wide variety of words that all mean some flavor of good. Some convey level of intensity, such as good vs. better vs. best. Fortunately, we’re not limited to only intensity levels, but flavors of good as well. Indeed, nearly all synonyms for “good” in common usage actually originally meant something else. Case in point, our poor, exhausted friend Fabulous actually means “of or relating to a fable.” It’s simply modern usage that dropped the fable part and rendered it a synonym of good.

Zack wrote last year about “fabulous” as a mindset. Not necessarily a personal mindset, but more of an expectation that others — often straight women, often gay men — might enforce upon us once finding out that we’re gay. “You’re gay? Fabulous! Let’s go shoe shopping! Then let’s go see Mama Mia! OMG, we’re going to be best friends!” Or the opposite, “You’re gay, so why are you shopping at thrift stores?” While I agree with him, and I’m surely “not fucking fabulous” either, I’d like focus on the word itself and not its modern, pink lifestyle interpretation.

I’d like to know what’s so special about the word Fabulous that it’s the mainstream gay synonym for “good.” Perhaps it was a gay signifier, back before gays were out and about, and used code and gestures to identify one another. If that’s the case, I fear that use is archaic, as those using the word with such frequency now aren’t sending subtle codes to anyone. They’re likely the most out and proud of the bunch, and “Everything’s Fabulous!!!” Your new haircut? Fabulous! This bran muffin. Fabulous! His new underwear? Fabulous! I’m sorry, but maybe if your hair cut was modeled after Tom Cruise’s in Legend, it’d be fabulous. Maybe if your bran muff is the chunk of evil left over at the end of Time Bandits, it’d be fabulous. Maybe if his new underwear is David Bowie’s codpiece from Labyrinth, it’d be fabulous.

Let’s explore some other synonyms for good and when we might want to use them:

  • Amazing means that the thing amazes you, which is often good (but not always). Example usage: “His dick was so huge! It was amazing. I didn’t think they came that big.”
  • Awesome means that the thing inspires awe, pretty similar to amazing but is more reverent, worshipful and inspirational. Example usage: “His ripped abs were so awesome. I just stared at them with my mouth agape for an hour while he played basketball. I need to get back to the gym.”
  • Fantastic, generally meaning “good” but also implies it’s so good that it must originate from a fantasy, outside of reality, or it is something you would daydream about desirously. Example usage: “His ambrosia salad was fantastic! The food of the gods, I tell you. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
  • Incredible actually means unbelievable, which technically speaking is just about neutral on the good/bad continuum. Example usage: “The homophobes shouted incredible reasons for why we will be burning in hell. They’ll never learn.”
  • Magnificent, generally meaning grand or large. I don’t think we need explore too many examples of its usage.
  • For international flare, feel free to use foreign language versions of any of the above, including wunderbar, muy bien.
  • In a pinch, use one of the many modern adjectives that only recently adopted secondary meanings for “good”, such as solid, strong, tight or boss.

While we have to accept that language changes, we don’t have to accept its direction. Such direction can be influenced by simply using language in desired ways. I am going to reserve the word Fabulous for when I next see a life-sized rabbit wearing a top hat running down the street claiming “I’m Late, I’m Late!” For other good things, I’ll use a more appropriate word.

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  • Adam H said:

    It seems like “fabulous” is the victim of lazy speech. Thank you for the suggestions on how to improve our collective gay lexicon. I’m personally going to use wunderbar more often! :-)

  • functional linguist who accepts language change said:

    “In a pinch, use one of the many modern adjectives that only recently adopted secondary meanings for “good”, such as solid, strong, tight or boss.”

    Why, in an article about resisting language change, would you drop this line at the very end? Resist the change of the word fabulous, but “in a pinch” (itself a metaphor), embrace other words that have extended their meaning metaphorically as well? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    Sure, fabulous is over-used, but it has moved beyond the simple meaning of “relating to a fable” a long time ago. Accept and embrace!

  • Carmine said:

    Functional linguist,

    I don’t claim to speak for the author, and maybe he will clarify himself– but I don’t think this article was intended to have anything to do with ‘resisting language change’, rather: just lazy over-use of long-tired cliche words and phrases.

  • Doctor Whom said:

    My partner and I don’t use the word very often. Then again, people tell us that we’re not really gay.