INDIE, [ind-ee], noun, informal…

‘Indie’: a much used term and one which my ears have become increasingly accustomed to in the past few years. Until now, though, my understanding of it has been fairly hazy. For me, Indie has always meant a particular type of person: someone beyond the mainstream; wearing quite a bit of denim; Docs perhaps; a few piercings here and there; eschewing Chart pop in favour of obscure guitar bands. An abbreviation of ‘individual.’

Source: My Little Tulip

I was partly right. Perusing Wikipedia for more information, the words ‘outside of mainstream’ crop up several times. But the term is less anthropocentric than I first thought, at least if we take it at its original definition. It surprises me to find that Indie is actually derived from ‘independent’, having been coined in the mid-1900’s when more and more bands were signing to independent record labels. The Velvet Underground, Pixies, The Smiths, etcetera.

Now I know that many of you, having lived through that era (no offence- it sounds quite a good one), are already aware of this, but I’m not so ignorant as I seem. From what I can deduce, Indie is more of a label today than it ever was when used primarily to classify types of records. Although the ‘Indie kid’ has existed from the beginning, rising alongside its favourite bands and becoming a subculture in its own right, it now seems to have swallowed up the term’s original meaning. To your average teenager in 21st century Britain, Indie may have musical undertones, but it relies to a greater extent on other information (dress sense, drug preferences, favourite films, blah blah.) Indie is predominantly a person.

And it’s also a bad thing.

You see, although approximately a quarter of the country’s young people could now be comfortably described as Indie, the term is generally used as an accusation rather than the positive acknowledgement of style that it once was. ‘He’s so Indie,’ or more commonly, ‘He thinks he’s so Indie,’ are as defaming as allegations of chavdom. Its sharp incline into the mainstream, which began in the 90’s, has tainted the term with unsavoury whiffs of wannabe.

Source: Racchell, Flickr

And so, for the very reason of its popularity, Indie has now become one of the most unpopular labels out there. Nobody wants to be associated with it. Even those who are so neck-deep in vinyl that they can’t reach this week’s copy of NME would rather break their Rickenbacker than have you accuse them of being Indie. Especially them, in fact. Former self-declared Indie kids, those that were happy to bear the once-revered label, are turning on their own style; in hitting the mainstream it has become everything that it shouldn’t be.

But Wikipedia needn’t change its definition just yet: Indie culture is headed for a sharp decline and will soon find itself ‘outside of mainstream’ once again.

You’re well gay

The etymology of the term ‘gay’ is very interesting. Originating in the late fourteenth century, it initially denoted happiness and frivolity. By the seventeenth century, however, it had adopted negative connotations with the Oxford English Dictionary defining it as ‘addicted to social pleasures and dissipations… Of loose and immoral life’, and by 1890 it had become interlinked with female prostitution. The year 1935, though, saw it edging somewhat closer to its contemporary meaning with ‘geycat’ referring to young male homosexuals.

   Today, ‘gay’ is defined as: ‘(of a person, especially a man) homosexual.’ And yet it is quickly becoming a pejorative term(predominantly amongst young people) to replace ‘rubbish.’ Thus, ‘gay’ no longer exclusively relates to sexuality; it is also an insult. 

   So how long will it be before this derogatory definition appears in our dictionaries? And, more importantly, should it?

   Whilst ‘gay’ is rapidly adopting negative connotations, no other word has as yet offered to assume the definition of ‘homosexual.’ There was a push recently, notably involving human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, for ‘queer’ to do just that, but this is generally accepted as having a much broader meaning, encompassing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people alike. Moreover, the reclamation is only regarded as appropriate for exclusive use within the LGBT community due to its harmful past. So, for now,  we have a homonym (excuse the terrible terrible pun.)

   We can presume that the two definitions once went hand in hand, with homophobia transforming the once-neutral term into an insult. Today however, the majority of young people argue that ‘gay’, as an insult, has no sexual connotations whatsoever, suggesting that its use is not consciously homophobic. Nevertheless, many people argue that this negative evolution shouldn’t be allowed as it is possible that the lexical ambiguity may still introduce or reinforce homophobia in children. After all, a seven-year old child who has been calling broccoli ‘gay’ since he could speak cannot then be expected to accept his uncles’ civil partnership without question. There may even be some transference of meaning, either consciously (with the rationale that the two definitions must be interlinked as in many other cases, for example ‘nurse’, in either sense, refers to the act of caring) or subconsciously (it may be difficult to shake off the word’s negative associations.)

   The alternative view is that lexical evolution is vital to the progression of language; it shouldn’t be interrupted.



It would be interesting to conduct an experiment to ascertain the relationship between the derogatory use of the word ‘gay’ and homophobia. I would hypothesise a positive correlation but this doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with the latter argument: I am not homophobic and, as far as I know, it is not a low exposure to the derogatory version of ‘gay’ in childhood which has caused this. Rather, I consciously choose to avoid the word ‘gay’, in the negative sense, for I am aware it can cause offence. Therefore, any such experiment would need to establish the causal mechanism between the two variables before coming to a conclusion as to whether or not we should allow the term ‘gay’ to adopt a second, and negative, meaning.

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