4 min

Polari parle

As an addendum to his latest column, Michael Lyons compiled a list of Polari words

As an addendum to his Polari History Boys column, Michael Lyons has compiled a Polari lexicon.  Credit: XTRA FILE PHOTO

I didn’t even learn about Polari until late 2013, but I owe my newfound knowledge to the Polari Rosetta Stone program compiled for Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s production of the Gay Heritage Project’s by Damien Atkins. His spoof reintroduced Polari to many gays who might have gone their whole lives hearing nary a “cod cottage” or a “zhooshy shush bag.” I’ve cobbled together a Polari lexicon, collecting approximately 150 words from a dozen sources, hopefully ensuring in a small way that this language isn’t lost.


ajax – nearby (from adjacent?)
alamo – hot for you/him
aunt nell – listen, hear
aunt nells – ears
aunt nelly fakes/aunt nell danglers – earrings
barney – a fight
basket – the bulge of male genitals through clothes
batts – shoes
betty bracelet – policewoman
bevvy – drink
bibi – bisexual
bijou – small, little
bitch – catty, effeminate or passive gay man, or to complain
blag – pick up
blue – code word for “homosexual”
bod – body
bold – daring
bona – good
bona nochy – goodnight (from: Italian – buona notte)
bonaroo – wonderful, excellent
bungery – pub, this comes from the English word for the closure on a barrel.
buns – ass cheeks
butch – masculine; masculine lesbian
buvare –a drink (from: Italian – bere, or old-fashioned Italian – bevere, or Lingua Franca – bevire)
cackle – talk, or gossip
camp – effeminate or outrageous (origin: KAMP = Known As Male Prostitute? Possibly from Italian – campare, to exaggerate, make stand out)
capello/capella – hat (from: Italian, also Greek – cappello)
carsey – toilet, also spelt khazi
carts/cartso – penis (from: Italian – cazzo)
cats – trousers
charper – search (from: Italian – acchiappare, to catch)
charpering omi – policeman
charver – to shag/a shag (sexual intercourse, from Italian – chiavare)
chicken – young man
clobber – clothes
cod – naff, vile, awful
cottage – a public toilet, especially used for sexual encounters
cottaging – having or looking for sex in a “cottage”
cove – friend
crimper – hairdresser
dish – an attractive male, nice arse, buttocks, anus
dizzy – scatterbrained
dally – sweet, kind, possibly an alternate pronunciation of dolly
dilly boy – a male prostitute
dinari – money (from: Latin – denarii, which was the “d” of the Britsh pre-decimal penny)
dolly – pretty, nice, pleasant
dona/donna – woman (perhaps from: Italian – donna, or Lingua Franca – dona)
dorcas – term of endearment, “one who cares,” The Dorcas Society was a ladies’ church association of the 19th century, which made clothes for the poor
doss – bed
drag – clothes, especially women’s clothes or clothes you’re not supposed to wear, (perhaps from: Romani – indraka, skirt, or German – tragen – to wear (clothes))
ecaf – face (backslang)
eek – face (abbreviated pronunciation of “ecaf”)
ends – hair
esong – nose (phonetic backslang corruption)
fantabulosa – wonderful
feele/feely/filly – child, young (from: Italian – figlio, for son)
fruit – queen, Old queen
funt – pound
gajo – stranger (from: Romani)
gelt – money (Yiddish)
gildy – fancy
glossies – magazines
handbag – money
hoofer – dancer
HP – effeminate gay man (abbreviation: homy polone, from omi-polone)
jarry – food (from: Italian – mangiare, or Lingua Franca mangiaria)
jubes – breasts
kaffies – trousers
lacoddy/lucoddy – body
lallies/lylies – legs
lallie tappers – feet
lattie/latty – room, house or flat
lills – hands
lilly – police (slang: Lilly Law)
lyles – legs (probably from: lisle stockings, specific hosiery fabric)
luppers – fingers (from: Yiddish – lapa, paw)
mangarie – food (from: Italian mangiare, or Lingua Franca mangiaria)
measures – money
meese – plain, ugly (from: Yiddish)
meshigener – nutty, crazy, mental (from: Yiddish, in turn from Hebrew for crazy)
metzas – money (from: Italian – mezzi, means, wherewithal)
mince – walk (affectedly), a camp walk
naff – bad, drab, awful (Not Available For Fucking), hetero
nanti – not, none, no, nothing, don’t, beware (from: Italian – niente)
national handbag – dole (out money), welfare, government financial assistance
nishta – nothing, no
ogle – look admire
oglefakes – glasses
ogles – eyes
omi – man (from: romance)
omi-polone – effeminate man, or homosexual
onk – nose (compare: conk)
orbs – eyes
oven – mouth (ie. “nanti pots in the oven” = “no teeth in the mouth”)
palare pipe – telephone (“talk pipe”)
palliass – back (as in part of body)
park/parker – give
plate – feet, or to fellate
palone/polone – woman (from: Italian – paglione, “straw mattress,” compare: old cant “hay-bag” = woman); spelled “polony” in Graham Greene’s 1938 novel Brighton Rock
palone-omi – lesbian
polari – chat, talk, or the language itself
pots – teeth
queen – whore (from: Middle English quean)
remould – sex change
riah/riha – hair (backslang)
riah shusher/zhoosher – hairdresser
rough trade – a working class or blue collar sex partner or potential sex partner, a tough, thuggish or potentially violent sex partner
scarper – to run off (from: Italian – scappare, to escape or run away or from rhyming slang: Scapa Flow, to go)
schinwhars – Chinese man (from: Yiddish, somewhat derogatory)
schlumph – drink
schvartzer – black man (from: Yiddish, somewhat derogatory)
scotch – leg
screech – mouth, speak
send up – to make fun of
sharpy – policeman (from: Polari, charpering omi)
shush – steal (from a client)
shush bag – bag or holdall
shyker / shyckle – wig (mutation of Yiddish sheitel)
slap – makeup
so – homosexual (ie. “Is he ‘so’?”)
stimps – legs
stimpcovers – stockings, hosiery
strides – trousers
strillers – piano
switch – wig
tart – slut
TBH – to be had
The Dilly – Piccadilly Circus, a popular hang-out for male prostitutes in London
thews – thighs
tober – road (from: a Shelta word, Irish bóthar)
todd (Sloanne) – alone
tootsie trade – sex between two passive homosexuals (ie: “I don’t do tootsie trade.”)
trade – sex, a gay sex partner, often one who doesn’t consider himself to be gay
troll – to walk about (especially looking for trade)
vada, varda, vardered or vardering – to see, to look at (from: Italian dialect – vardare = guardare, look at)
vera (lynn) – gin (from: the WWII-era singer?)
vogue – cigarette (from: Lingua Franca – fogus, “fire, smoke”)
vogueress – female smoker
willets – breasts
yews – eyes (from: French – yeux)
zhoosh – style hair, tart up, mince (from: Romani – zhouzho, clean, neat, ie. “zhoosh our riah” = “style our hair”)
zhooshy – showy