deliberate kitsch, out and loud homosexuality, or anything else which is entertaining to the right people and annoying to the wrong people

An enzyme (cAMP). 3',5'-cyclic adenosine monophosphate AMP.

So outlandish in being old-fashioned, artificial or exaggerated as to be amusing or clever; as, to decorate with camp furnishings. Perhaps from dialectal usage for impetuous person.

to camp (vt): Quake/first person shooter jargon for act of fortifying oneself / staying on area where all the power-ups / ammo respawn.

Generally camping is considered a sign of cowardice and bad playing skills - however, as noted by Sycrim below, these days in some game modes of some FPSes it actually makes sense (though, as usual, it depends on circumstances...)

Russians: "Satanski kamperski! Aimbotski da da!"

Finns: "Go play Quake, Peelovich, Finns are supposed to use delay tactics."

- Half-Life: Winter War article in Pelit, by Niko Nirvi.

Originating from early FPS such as Quake, the term "camp" refers to the act of remaining still for both safety and offensive advantage. The most infamous form of camping is "spawn camping" whereby the player sits at his opponents spawn point and proceeds to kill him each time he reappears. In more recent FPS's such as Counterstrike, which mimics real life counter-terrorism, the act of "camping" becomes a necessary action as most real life situations call for protective cover fire from a positioned sniper or terrorist protecting hostages. Unfortunately, the wait time imposed on a dead player coupled with impatient players has turned a legitimate action like camping into a most hated exploit.

Camp as an artistic noun and verb, comes from the traditions of the British Royal Army, where soldiers in camp entertained themselves with satirical sketches often involving re-creations of movie and literary scenes and impersonation of officers, celebrities and women. Queer theorist Samuel R. Delany believes that this is a survival of times past when army encampments would employ female impersonators who performed for and sexually serviced the men, but there is no hard evidence to support this, and women would have been easier to come by. Anyway, by the Second World War, 'camping' had evolved from mere "there ain't nuttin' like a dame", "What would Clark Gable do?" and boneheaded CO jokes into a finely honed satiric tradition of over-the-top outrageousness, related to the 'skits' in Classic Scouting.

The one unbreakable rule was that you must only make fun of things, people, and places you genuinely admired, or would otherwise take quite seriously: a Rita Hayworth fan might come up with a sketch re-creating "Put the blame on Mame", or a patriotic soldier, Winston Churchill trying to woo Eleanor Roosevelt during Yalta. In this light, being a homosexual wouldn't be considered funny, but pretending to be one would be: "Ah, when I look into your eyes, I see the light of signal flares...Elope with me, Derek, and I'll show you the world!"

This would have remained unremarked upon and unremarkable, save for one Christopher Isherwood, who found the sketches very like the cabaret performances of Weimar Berlin in their stylization and humor. In his novel The World in the Evening, he described how 'camp' could describe such things as Baroque Catholicism, cartoons, and opera: "it isn't really making fun of something, it's making fun with something." he remarked. He distinguished further "high camp" (such as Noel Coward plays, where the stylization and humor is self-conscious, and willed) and "low camp" (such as say, Plan 9 From Outer Space, where the humor is unconscious and accidental). Even this didn't cause too much of a stir, until the young Susan Sontag published her "Notes on Camp" in 1964, touching off a pop phenomenon.

It bears explaining that the cultural world of the postwar era was at first a very serious one. Nowadays, the idea of academics studying rap lyrics as poetry and respected artists painting pictures of gum wrappers and gas stations is thoroughly humdrum: high and low culture meet all the time, and irony is such common currency in the Western world that it's hard to imagine any Western sacred cow (including the fact that some might find the term as being Orientalist) that hasn't been expertly butchered, barbecued and served with A-1 sauce. But in the Forties and Fifties, this was not so: the goal in cultural affairs then was to be taken seriously, as an adult, and the bar was set very high. One shibboleth of serious adulthood was to reject popular culture outright: while it was conceded that one might, with reservations, watch TV (particularly Omnibus or public broadcasting), go to a movie (particularly foreign films), listen to show tunes (particularly those by Leonard Bernstein or George Gershwin) or read a mystery novel (particularly if it was written by Simeon or Agatha Christie) now and then, the proper attitude of a serious adult towards pop culture, especially American pop culture, ranged from polite distaste to outright hatred and fear. No matter how ugly modern art could be, held common wisdom, how hard Schoenberg could be on the ear, how jarring Abstract Expressionism could be on the eye, how incomprehensible Finnegans Wake be to the mind, it was still better than the coldly manufactured vulgarity that passed itself off as American pop culture. In fact, the mere fact that these things were difficult to understand was proof that they were "better", the way a good Scotch was better than Coca-cola.

I give you this lengthy digression in order to stress to you exactly how strange it was when Ms. Sontag -- a woman of all things, wrote, in kitchen-clean academic prose, so dispassionate as to sound almost oracular, how it was completely OK to like ... King Kong? Flash Gordon? Pornography? To say "It's so bad it's good"? "The dandy held a perfumed handkerchief to his nostrils and was liable to swoon; the connoisseur of Camp sniffs the stink and prides himself on his strong nerves." It's as if art, locked into a search for ever-more recherche pleasures, had finally caught up with itself: if learning to appreciate the true beauty behind the ugliness of say, a painting by Francis Bacon was to progress as an art lover, then what would keep you from appreciating the technical accomplishment and beauty of a comic book?

I confess to knowing and liking her essay for at least twenty years before looking up the Isherwood quote, and finally understanding what she was trying to say. Divorced from any experience of Camp as a military/hetero phenomenon, Sontag stressed camp as a largely homosexual aesthetic, strongly urban in nature, more related to fashion photography than to pantomime. However, her remarks serve to differentiate Camp from kitsch, which is not at all the same (Precious Moments figurines aren't Campy, and Erte gouaches aren't kitsch).

Within a year of her essay being published, it was hip to like Art Nouveau, Rudolf Valentino and Theda Bara, science fiction and that new thing, Pop Art. In 1966, it seemed as if comic books had taken over the media with a musical based on Superman on Broadway and Batman invaded the airwaves with a totally irreverent (but thoroughly gay-friendly) TV series. (Pontificate on the Dark Knight all you like, but the 60's series had the nerve to feature G. David Schine in a cameo. You just can't make these things up.) Not only did people make fun of...oh, sorry with commercials, but people even wrote songs about them -- listen to "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" sometime. Things really haven't been the same since.

The other theory about the expression "camp" is that it came from the polari "camp" for "gay man" - which itself derived from the expression "Known As Male Prostitute". It has a serious effect on 20th century light entertainment in Britain and elsewhere, but especially Britain, where the cultural DNA mixed with 20th century social change to make it an artform.

In England many a performer of the mid 20th century got his start in the war, and most certainly brought elements of female impersonation and "whoops Missis Miggins, you're sitting in my artichokes" bawdy humor of the British vaudeville. One of the most important "camp" performers of the 20th century, Kenneth Williams, tells of his mystifying interaction with army brass as one of these performers, who was outraged at him and others simping in to "We're the Boys of the Service" in full limpwristed sashaying - until they changed the lyrics to "We're the MEN of the Service".

To properly understand camp, one must understand that there was a definite and defined gay subculture in England, one whose activities in the bedroom were technically illegal - resulting in some affectations to allow them to find each other, and a pidgin with which they could speak. In addition, Britain has always been of the "stiff upper lip" variety and rather neurotic about matters sexual. These factors are important because it is in this taboo and this strange mixture of sexual repression and "don't ask, don't tell" that a specific type of comedy in light entertainment came about.

The maddening thing about "camp" is that the major players, whereas they did have some things in common, were starkly different in terms of implementation. In theory it's humor about and by flamboyantly gay or effeminate men, or people pretending to be gay or effeminate. It is usually rife with double entendre and the odd eyebrow wiggle, but it's never malicious and the performer in question is usually a sympathetic character or person. Unlike the minstrel tradition of blackface it isn't meant to directly insult effeminacy and/or homosexuality, but there was a certain template from which a camp performer worked.

Sid Field was one of the earliest of the 20th century, and his mannerisms, from touching his hair to skipping across the stage influenced a generation of comedians. John Inman flat out said he based much of his beloved Are You Being Served character "Mr. Humphries" on Sid Field's mannerisms, and in the little footage that remains of his work, you can see the influence. Sid unfortunately fell into a time when TV arrived too late for him and film didn't quite catch his energy, but he was one of the progenitors of 20th century camp.

But England's first full-on camp stars of the mid 20th century were definitely "Julian and Sandy". Originally conceived as a sketch about two aging Shakespearian actors between roles, they eventually became two obviously and screamingly gay chorus boys on the "Round the Horne" radio program. From the "gay lisp" to the liberal use of "polari" (which covered up a lot of the edgy, boundary pushing nature of their performance) they were a bright flash of color brought to life by Kenneth Wiliams and Hugh Paddick

Some of their lines were outrageous for the period:

SANDY: “Don’t mention Malaga to Julian, he got very badly stung.”
HORNE: “Portuguese man o' war?”
JULIAN: “Well I never saw him in uniform…”

Kenneth Williams later became famous for his work in the Carry On films often playing the role of a prig or stick in the mud outraged and disgusted by the sexual carryings on of the other characters, a propos since in his private life he was a heavily conflicted gay man with a crawling horror of contagion. He would regularly wash his walls down with disinfectant and did not like to be touched by other people at all and though for various reasons I won't touch on what we know of his sexuality, none of it involved any physical contact with other human beings. In the Carry On films he played the role of the deeply repressed but very obviously gay man, a slight fey individual constantly trying to overcompensate and act overly masculine. The humor usually flowed from this obvious conflict, especially when they found a way to tie together various and obvious contradictions. In his "plum in my mouth" deeply affected upper class Oxbridgian English, he'd riff on being told at drama school that he "had the diction" and they'd often tell him to "get his diction out", the kind of comment you'd typically hear in lower class Cockney - and it was a clear double entendre even though Williams was obviously a deeply conflicted gay man who'd never touch a soul and was "above such things".

Frankie Howerd, another from that time period, took it one step further and often portrayed an aggressively heterosexual character with predictably humorous results. His slave character Lurcio from Up Pompeii! would often stare through a keyhole or make some leering comment about a large breasted woman. ("And there's so much of her!!!! (looking at her backside) Both ways!!!!") Excepting that when he did see something through that keyhole, it was typically an almost-falsetto "ooooooohhhhh!!!!!" in response. Though Howerd did in fact live in fear of people finding out he was homosexual and did in fact try to find a cure (he was one of the few people given LSD in the 1960s for therapeutic experiments) there was literally no way anyone could have seen his sniggering, stammering, cooing and other campy mannerisms and see him as anything but a closeted gay man playing a rather lecherous straight. In addition, whereas most camp performers were, shall we say, colorful looking human beings, whether a slightly over-coiffed John Inman or an outright Lady Gaga-ish Julian Clary, Howerd had small eyes, large bushy eyebrows that looked like they had been glued on wrong, a face that looked like it had worn out two bodies, and the general attitude that he was in or about to be in a bad mood. Whereas Williams could be downright bitchy ("Don't freeze your tongue and go sledding with me, dear!") and in fact curated a book of his cutting remarks into a memoir called "Acid Drops", Howerd's stage personality was one of someone just beaten down in life and likely simply to deride the audience as being uneducated or "common".

But the man most turn to in terms of the template of the camp comedian was Larry Grayson. He brought a chair out with him onstage as part of his performance because of stage fright and needing the company, but also because he was either often sick, or simply hypochondriac. As a result he often found himself leaning against that chair, one hip higher than the other, resting one hand on the chair and making theatrical hand gestures with the other. With a stage manner and speech pattern of a beyond-middle age housewife ("Ooooh, I'm as weak as a vicar's handshake today....") and frequent interjections of catchphrases ("Shut that door!" and (wiping a finger against something) "Oooh, look at the muck on that!") his standup, while not as obviously screamingly gay as Julian and Sandy, most certainly didn't hide his limp-wristedness and gentle femininity. It made the double entendres that much more stinging when he was clearly mincing across the stage. If you look at how gay people were parodied for much of the latter 20th century until political correctness took hold, you can see it was clearly ripped straight from Grayson's demeanor and mannerisms.

With the success of the Carry On films and the likes of Grayson, Williams and Howerd in their own rights, the 1970s became a time when most light entertainment or comedy shows had to have a token flamboyant gay man one way or the other. Monty Python had cross-dressing judges simpering in a Grayson-esque mode when it didn't have a squadron going from marching to mincing and screeching in formation with the command "Camp it up!". Dick Emery, in his "The Dick Emery Show" had "Clarence", a flamboyantly dressed man who greeted others with "Ooh, hello Honky Tonks!" and whose double entendres were in no way subtle. It was patently obvious that he was gay the moment he'd enthusiastically sign up for the Army on hearing the regiment in question was "The Queen's" ("Ooooh, I'll be one of those, professionals!").

But none registered on the radar and kept it alive in the 1970s like John Inman. It's sort of an uncomfortable truth that gay men work in men's wear and shoe fetishists sell shoes, but Are You Being Served riffed on it in a camp-like manner with the high-pitched voiced Mr. Humphries cooing out "Yes, I'm freeeeeeee!" in his inimitable way. From the obvious double entendres and wink-wink, nudge-nudge lines ("Were you ever a Boy Scout, Mr. Humphries?" "Well.... not officially") to the way he clearly made Old Guard Englishman Captain Peacock uncomfortable with his hairnets and hair pins, or walking around with a handbag ("It's Miss Brahms'. She left it on the stairs. (beat). "I'd never be caught dead with this anyways. Not with these shoes" (cue Captain Peacock rolling his eyes in despair)) it pushed ever so slightly on the social tension that arose from increasing social and legal acceptance of homosexuals. Gay rights groups initially hated Mr. Humphries as an objectionable gay stereotype, and the BBC flat out said after the pilot "we'll buy the show, but lose the poof."

But the essence of camp is that it's almost never mean and the portrayal of all concerned is almost always highly sympathetic. It almost never plays on homosexual panic or these men as someone who might come on to you or attack you. They were even less threatening to women: compliments about a woman's breasts the audience are clearly thinking about become defanged when stated by an obvious homosexual like Howerd. Williams clearly never wanted to be touched by anyone. And Mr. Humphries was just a kind and gentle soul with no predatory intent whatsoever. It allowed people to laugh at sexuality, homo- or hetero-, without feeling threatened by it. It could be lighthearted and cheeky without being disturbing or aggressive, and Mr. Humphries eventually went on to be one of the most beloved characters of the 1970s.

Camp couldn't remain the way it was forever. With increasing liberalization of sexual mores to greater pushing of the envelope and boundaries, it was inevitable that they couldn't maintain a delicate balance between daring and outright offensive, suggestion and being blatant. By the time Julian Clary and Graham Norton came about, there was no question of whether or not the people involved were gay, Clary practically takes the stage in a cloud of glitter and sequins, and Graham Norton gives sex toys to guests. The jokes aren't of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge variety, but as bawdy straight sex comedies had become in the 1980s.

It had to die out eventually anyway - whereas once a man had to wear a suggestive scarf or dye his hair to advertise his sexuality and/or walk "just so", and engage in activities in the dark, we live in a permissive age with Gay Pride parades and Log Cabin Republicans. Polari has died out due to a lack of need, and the "ooh matron" jokes of the Carry On days are anachronistically quaint rather than being daring. We're past the days in which people laugh and avoid discussions of sex. But camp and campiness have contributed greatly to British comedy, and British culture. 

Camp (?), n. [F. camp, It. campo, fr. L. campus plant, fleld; akin to Gr. garden. Cf. Campaing, Champ, n.]


The ground or spot on which tents, huts, etc., are erected for shelter, as for an army or for lumbermen, etc.



A collection of tents, huts, etc., for shelter, commonly arranged in an orderly manner.

Forming a camp in the neighborhood of Boston. W. Irving.


A single hut or shelter; as, a hunter's camp.


The company or body of persons encamped, as of soldiers, of surveyors, of lumbermen, etc.

The camp broke up with the confusion of a flight. Macaulay.

5. Agric.

A mound of earth in which potatoes and other vegetables are stored for protection against frost; -- called also burrow and pie.

[Prov. Eng.]

6. [Cf. OE. & AS. camp contest, battle. See champion.]

An ancient game of football, played in some parts of England.


Camp bedstead, a light bedstead that can be folded up onto a small space for easy transportation. -- camp ceiling Arch., a kind ceiling often used in attics or garrets, in which the side walls are inclined inward at the top, following the slope of the rafters, to meet the plane surface of the upper ceiling. -- Camp chair, a light chair that can be folded up compactly for easy transportation; the seat and back are often made of strips or pieces of carpet. -- Camp fever, typhus fever. -- Camp follower, a civilian accompanying an army, as a sutler, servant, etc. -- Camp meeting, a religious gathering for open-air preaching, held in some retired spot, chiefty by Methodists. It usualy last for several days, during which those present lodge in tents, temporary houses, or cottages. -- Camp stool, the same as camp chair, except that the stool has no back. -- Flying camp Mil., a camp or body of troops formed for rapid motion from one place to another. Farrow. -- To pitch (a) camp, to set up the tents or huts of a camp. -- To strike camp, to take down the tents or huts of a camp.


© Webster 1913.

Camp (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Camped (?); p. pr. & vb n. Camping.]

To afford rest or lodging for, as an army or travelers.

Had our great palace the capacity To camp this host, we all would sup together. Shak.


© Webster 1913.

Camp, v. i.


To pitch or prepare a camp; to encamp; to lodge in a camp; -- often with out.

They camped out at night, under the stars. W. Irving.

2. [See Camp, n., 6]

To play the game called camp.

[Prov. Eng.]



© Webster 1913.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.