Learn These Shady Polari Phrases, You Cackling Alice!

Learn These Shady Polari Phrases, You Cackling Alice!

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Polari is a form of British slang that queer men used before Britain legalized homosexuality in 1967. Although it’s derived from 19th century theater folk, sailors, showmen and criminals, 20th century queer men used Polari phrases as a way to make conversation and discuss their lives at a time when being queer could get you fired, thrown in jail and chemically castrated.

We’ve covered Polari’s history and use in pop culture before, but we not-so-secretly want queer people to start using it again, so we’ve put together a list of 10 useful Polari phrases that still apply to everyday situations. Before we share them with you, a few notes:

First off, these phrases below are not always kind. Because Polari phrases provided a way to gossip and talk trash about people’s appearance and sex lives, the phrases we’ve included are a bit backhanded. But we’ve also thrown in some compliments to show that Polari isn’t just for mean girls.

Second, in almost all our phrases, “she” means “he.” Polari often switches male pronouns for female pronouns the same way it often uses female versions of men’s names (like Pauline instead of Paul).

Last, we don’t actually expect you to memorize and use all these Polari phrases in public — most people would have no idea what you were saying if you did. But you can pick out key phrases and sprinkle them into your speech to sound classically smart and shady in the old gay way.

Here are 10 Polari phrases for you to learn:

1. Every time she vardas a dolly basket, she goes meshigener for cottaging. 

Every time he sees a nice bulge, he goes crazy for public sex.

2. Oh, she’ll plate any carts whether the omi is dolly or meese.

Oh, he’ll fellate any penis whether the man is pretty or ugly.

3. I’m not into palone-omees because I’m not bibi, but anyone with ogles can varda that she’s got a bona bod.

I’m not into women because I’m not bisexual, but anyone with eyes can see that she’s got a nice body.

4. I’ve nanti dinarly. Park me some handbag for another buvare.

I’ve got no money. Give me some money for another drink.

5. Mais oui ducky! Let’s nish the chat and go troll for rough trade … just gardy loo for chickens and don’t blag an orderly daughter!

Oh yes! Let’s stop talking and go walking for a working-class sex partner … just watch out for underage men and don’t pick up a cop!

6. Everyone thinks that auntie is a total fruit, but her gildy clobber makes me think she’s a duchess.

Everyone thinks that older gay man is a total queen, but his nice clothes make me think he’s rich.

7. I don’t mean to cackle, but he’s not a manly Alice. When I first varda’d at her mince at the sweat chovey, I thought, “She’s mauve.” 

I don’t mean to gossip, but he’s not a masculine gay man. When I first looked at his effeminate walk at the gym, I thought, “He’s someone who appears to be gay.”

8. As an omi, he’s naff. But in drag, she’s fantabulosa! She titivates with fortuni slap, zhooshes up a switch and is one hell of a hoofer.

As a man, he’s dull. But in women’s clothes, he’s fabulous! He makes himself look great with gorgeous makeup, styles up a wig and is one hell of a dancer.

9. And no flies, it’s so bona to vada you, your lovely eek and your riah! Sharda that we don’t palare more often!

Honestly, it’s so good to see you, your lovely face and hair! What a shame that we don’t talk more often!

10. I’ve nanti jarry, nante latty and what’s worse, nante doss. I’m basically living off the national handbag — I might as well become a Dilly boy.

I’ve no food, no place to live and what’s worse, no bed. I’m basically living on welfare. I might as well become a sex worker.

If you’d like to learn more about Polari’s history and some more Polari phrases, you can find a good overview here and here.

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