LINGUIST List 7.131

Sat Jan 27 1996

Sum: Polari (British Theatrical Language)

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. "Michael B. Quinion", Polari (British Theatrical Language) (Summary)

Message 1: Polari (British Theatrical Language) (Summary)

Date: Sat, 27 Jan 1996 13:52:04 GMT
From: "Michael B. Quinion" <>
Subject: Polari (British Theatrical Language) (Summary)

As a new member of the LINQUIST list, I was delighted with the helpful
response to my query about the language fragment I have now learned is
called Polari. My thanks to Michael Betsch, Andrew
Carstairs-McCarthy, Billy Clark, Richard Coates, Janet Cowper, Lance
Eccles, Patrick Griffiths, Martin Haspelmath, Sean Jensen, and Hugh
Young for the information they have provided.

The consensus seems to be that Polari (also spelled Palare, Palyaree
and Palary) is an argot of about 100 words surviving from a corrupted
form of the lingua franca of the Mediteranean. It is in use in the
theatrical, dance, circus and other show-business fields in Britain,
but in particular now forms part of the private language of many
homosexual groups. It is sometimes difficult to separate "true"
Polari words from back slang, rhyming slang, Romani terms or words
brought back to Britain from the former Empire. The argot seems not
to have been extensively studied, and the bibliography is small.

If anyone is interested further, I have posted a short general article
on Polari to my Web site at:


which also includes a brief glossary and bibliography. I would be
very interested to receive further communications from anyone with
knowledge of Polari.

The principal bibliographical reference is:

 Ian Hancock, "Shelta and Polari", in Peter Trudgill (ed.),
 Language in the British Isles (Cambridge UP, 1984), pp
 384-403 [includes glossary and extensive bibliography].

Some other references are:

 BBC Enterprises Ltd "Julian & Sandy: Bona Entertainment from
 the Two Fantabulosa Omipalonis", double cassette of extracts
 from "Round the Horne", ZBBC 1415, ISBN 0-563-40626-7. [this
 contains 25 sketches from the series with much basic Polari
 vocabulary, including a couple of terms not in any glossary
 I've seen].
 Burton, Peter "The Gentle Art of Confounding Naffs: Some Notes
 on Polari", in Gay News 120, 1979, p23.
 Gordino, P. "The Walloper's Polari", in "TV Times", London,
 18-25 October 1969.
 Hellinger, Marlis "Englisch-orientierte Pidgin- und
 Kreolsprachen", Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft,
 Lester, Sydney "Vardi the Parlary" [apparently cited by Partridge
 in "Here, There and Everywhere"; no details available].
 Mayhew, Henry "London Labour and the London Poor", 1861 [see Vol.
 3, Page 47, "Punch Talk"].
 McArthur, Tom [ed] "The Oxford Companion to the English Language",
 Oxford UP, 1992, pp 793-4 [a brief entry].
 Partridge, Eric "A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English",
 1937-1961 [contains 50 or so Polari terms, so identified, but not
 separately listed].
 Partridge, Eric "Parlyaree, Cinderella Among Languages", in "Here,
 There and Everywhere", London, 1948, pp 116-25.
 Took, Barry & Feldman, Marty "Round The Horne", Woburn Press, 1974
 [there is a brief glossary of Polari on page 12].

 Michael B. Quinion Thornbury, Bristol, UK
 Michael Quinion Associates home page : <>;
 See 'World Wide Words' at : <>;
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