"So Bona to Vada. Oh you!
Your lovely eek and
Your lovely riah"

Morrissey, Piccadilly Palare, Bona Drag

Alternative spellings are Polari, Palary, Parlary, Palyaree, and Parlyaree. I have chosen the spelling Palare because a node with that spelling already existed, and because that is the spelling that Morrissey used in the above quote. By far the most commonly-used spelling online is Polari. However, given that Palare is not a written language, the choice of spelling is effectively arbitrary.

Essentially, Palare is a dead language that is refusing to lie down. It is usually characterized as a slang language used by British gay men in the 1950's and 60's, when it was employed both as a means of private communication in public, and, as slang so often is, as a subcultural identifier. Such use has now all but died out as there is no longer any need for such secrecy, plus there are numerous other identifiers of gay sub-culture.

However, a look at any Palare lexicon quickly reveals a large number of familiar words which are still in popular use in Britain, their association with homosexuality long forgotten or dissolved. On one level, this should be no surprise, since Palare used words from many diverse sources including various British slangs such as backslang and Cockney rhyming slang. However, it also generated words and expressions of its own. Thus it is difficult to know exactly where such words originated, and they may well predate Palare.

Some of the other linguistic influences evident in Palare are Italian, Spanish, Yiddish, Romany, and borrowings from other slangs and private languages, such as circus slang and canal-speak, which would themselves have borrowed from other languages. Intriguingly, there are also words taken from Lingua Franca, a Mediterranean trading language in use from the 14th to the 19th century and now largely lost. These words probably appear due to their inclusion in the many other slangs and argots that Palare borrowed from. For instance, circus slang includes elements of Lingua Franca. However they arrived there, it is interesting to note that due to their appropriation into Palare and then into mainstream British slang, some words of Lingua Franca are still in regular use in Britain today.

Almost every source attributes the popularization of Palare to a British radio show named "Round The Horne" which was broadcast weekly between 1965 and 1968, and which regularly attracted audiences of 9 million listeners. It was sketch-based comedy, and one of the regular sketches featured Julian and Sandy (played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick respectively), a very camp, very obviously gay couple who spoke in Palare. In general, no translation at all was offered, and the audience had to figure out the vocabulary by repeated exposure. Despite this fact (or perhaps because of it) Palare passed into widespread everyday use. It would also be difficult to overstate the enduring popularity of Kenneth Williams, and the British public's great affection for him was probably also a large contributing factor in the success of the Palare meme.

The following is a short list of some words from Lingua Franca which Palare borrowed and which are still in common use in Britain today :

  • bevvy (drink)
  • bijou (small)
  • carsey (toilet, now more often spelled khazi)
  • savvy (to know, although now it usually means knowledgeable or clever)

The following are examples of other palare words in common everyday use. Some of these will be so familiar to both UK and US readers that it is difficult to imagine them ever not being a part of everyday speech. Not all of these words originated with Palare, but they were all used in it and their popularity is probably to some degree attributable to that fact.

  • blag (pick up a man, now used to mean simply acquire or persuade)
  • bod (body)
  • butch (masculine)
  • camp (effeminate, said to be from KAMP, meaning Known As Male Prostitute)
  • dish (an attractive male)
  • drag (clothes, especially women's clothes, hence, in drag)
  • hoofer (dancer)
  • manky (crappy, tasteless)
  • mince (walk affectedly)
  • naff (crappy, not desirable, said to be derived from Not Available For Fucking)
  • ogle (look at)
  • palaver (argument, chatter)
  • scarper (to run away; from Italian scappare, to escape)
  • slap (makeup)
  • troll (in the sense of walk)

Here are a few examples of backslang and rhyming slang which were absorbed by Palare.

  • arthur (wank, from J. Arthur Rank)
  • ecaf (face, although the abbreviation eek was more often used)
  • esong (nose with a stray g added)
  • flowery (cell, from flowery dell, but used figuratively to mean room or lodging)
  • gylrig (girly with a stray g added, but meaning man)
  • plates (feet, from plates of meat)
  • riah (hair)
  • scotch (leg, from scotch egg)

Finally, some examples of Palare words which, as far as I know, are not in common use any more.

  • ajax (nearby, probably from adjacent)
  • aspro (male prostitute, from arse professional)
  • bona (good)
  • colin (erection)
  • dolly (pleasant)
  • lally (leg)
  • lapper (hand)
  • lupper (finger)
  • molly (gay man)
  • nanti (no, nothing; nanti riah therefore means bald)
  • onk (nose)
  • palare (talk)
  • riah shusher (hairdresser)
  • shush (steal)
  • stamper (shoe)
  • vada (see, look)

    Sources and further reading:
  • 'Hugh Young's Lexicon of Polari' at http://www.homeusers.prestel.co.uk/cello/Polari.htm is by far the largest single list of Palare words that I have found, though it does omit some words that appear on other lists
  • 'Polari Words from Lingua Franca' at http://www.stg.brown.edu/webs/corre/franca/edition2/polari.html contains a much fuller list of such words than I have given here
  • 'Polari' at http://www.chris-d.net/polari/ contains a list which includes some words that other lists seem to have missed, as well as some interesting links
  • 'A Polari Glossary' at http://members.aol.com/frij/polglos.html adds yet more words not seen elsewhere
  • 'Polari - A Cinderella Among Languages' at http://members.aol.com/frij/index.html contains the words to a Palare busker's song, though not much else

    SEE ALSO :
  • Lingua Franca : Backslang : Cockney rhyming slang
How bona to vada your dolly old eek!