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The extent to which these usages still retain connotations of homosexuality has been debated and harshly criticized.In English, the word's primary meaning was "joyful", "carefree", "bright and showy", and the word was very commonly used with this meaning in speech and literature.In a scene in which the Cary Grant character's clothes have been sent to the cleaners, he is forced to wear a woman’s feather-trimmed robe.When another character asks about his robe, he responds, "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!Those who are habitues of the bars frequented by others of the kind, are about the saddest people I’ve ever seen.” In the case of gay, other connotations of frivolousness and showiness in dress ("gay apparel") led to association with camp and effeminacy.

He begins, "I'd like to propose..." at which point a fellow diner, played by Sidney Tafler, interjects "Who to? The Benny Hill character responds, "Not to you for start, you ain't my type".

Among younger speakers, the word has a meaning ranging from derision (e.g., equivalent to rubbish or stupid) to a light-hearted mockery or ridicule (e.g., equivalent to weak, unmanly, or lame).

In this use, the word rarely means "homosexual", as it is often used, for example, to refer to an inanimate object or abstract concept of which one disapproves.

As late as 1970, the first episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show has the demonstrably straight Mary Richards' downstairs neighbor, Phyllis, breezily declaiming that Mary is, at age 30, still "young and gay." There is little doubt that the homosexual sense is a development of the word's traditional meaning, as described above.

It has nevertheless been claimed that gay stands for "Good As You", but there is no evidence for this: it is a backronym created as popular etymology.

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