Translating Gay - The On Spanish Column by R. Guerrero

Translating Gay

President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage prompted the question: What’s the politically correct Spanish translation for gay? Though each nation in the Spanish-speaking world has a word, pato, duck, pájaro, bird, mariposa, butterfly, mano-quebrada, broken-wrist, afeminado, affeminate, invertido, reversed or inverted, puto, literally male whore, loca, crazy woman, etc., the universally recognized, if derogatory, is marica or maricón.

The etymology of marica is María, a diminutive connoting woman. Maricón is an augmentative, literally meaning big-time marica—as casa is house and big house casón. Marica has been used for homosexual since mediaeval times. Today, in addition to homosexual, it connotes lack of effort, aggressiveness, cowardice, even ineptitude. Playing soccer, for example, you miss an easy goal and your teammates will hammer you: ¡maricón!

So, how to translate gay? El Diccionario de la Real Academia Española has the answer: Gay is gay. It defines gay: adejetive, pertenenciente o relativo a la homosexualidad. Noun, homosexual man. Spain’s leading newspaper El País points out Romeny’s opposition al matrimonio gay. The plural form is los gais.

According to The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, gay derives from the Old French gai. Early use is recorded in the sense of light-hearted and care-free. In the 18th century the word “developed the notion of addicted to social pleasures, often with an association to loose morality, as in gay Lothario.” Later it was associated to women living by prostitution. The use for homosexual, the adjective, dates to 1930’s prison slang, and the noun to the 1970’s. 

By the way, The Webster Meridian Dictionary has altered its definition of marriage, the union of man and wife, to include same-sex unions. El Diccionario de la Real Academia Española remains intact: Unión de hombre y mujer concertada mediante determinados ritos o formalidades legales.

Raúl Guerrero is a journalist, historian, and  writer specializing in women’s struggles and language. He is the author of numerous works, notably the novels INSOLENCE and La dudosa fuga de la cronista LIBERTINA. He lectures frequently in Florida and New York. 

Contact him at

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