A few days ago, Benjamin Barrett wrote to ADS-L to report that in a discussion about the computer language VBA, he had found:

Date variables are really Doubles in drag.

(noting that both date variables and doubles are data types).

This is a use of drag (OED2: ‘feminine attire worn by a man’) in a snowclonelet pattern X drag, conveying roughly ‘attire appropriate for/to X’ (OED2 glosses this use of drag as ‘clothes, clothing’, and gives a 1959 cite for teenage drag and a 1966 cite for Arab drag), followed by a semantic extension to figurative uses, referring to something that appears in a form appropriate for/to X (that is, figuratively ‘dressed like X’), as in Barrett’s quote above.

Note 1. The OED‘s main gloss refers only to men dressed as women, but some time ago this usage became gender-neutral, and there are now drag kings as well as drag queens.

Note 2. I’ve participated in some discussions where drag and X drag were glossed via ‘disguise’, but that seems to me to be too strong. Yes, there are people who cross-dress in an attempt to pass as, disguise themselves as, belonging to the opposite sex, but drag is not usually intended to be deceptive; as the now-considerable literature on drag points out, it’s usually a kind of performance in which the audience appreciates the double nature of the performer. And, it seems to me, that doubleness carries over to both sorts of X drag examples.

On to some examples, illustrating the versatility of the snowclonelet. First, some with the ‘attire, costume, dress’ sense (as when I sometimes tell friends that I’m going to some event in “professor drag”):

Image Name: Rick dressed in business drag. Park Avenue Bridgeport, CT (link)

Lydia habitually dressed in dominatrix drag. (link)

Twenty-five years ago, the great Annie Lennox did the same thing at the 1984 Grammy Awards. Lennox shocked the crowd when she appeared on stage to perform Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) with her partner Dave Stewart, dressed in Elvis drag. (link)

Then some figurative examples, beginning with another occurrence of business drag:

Essentially, it [Manhattan Inc.]—like Boston Business—were general interest magazines “in business drag,” we used to say. (link) [also illustrating some of the perils of subject-verb agreement]

These are not just Neocons dressed in religious drag. These men see themselves as gurus called by God to rescue America from unrighteousness. (link)

Is it a table or a spreadsheet? Only its owner knows for sure! Looking at Figure 2-4, it’s easy to see why you may confuse the two. It’s a table, but it looks like a spreadsheet.  The Customers table, dressed in spreadsheet drag. [Access 2003 for Dummies, p. 28 (link) — from Ben Zimmer]

5 Responses to “drag”

  1. mollymooly Says:

    Surprisingly few webhits for “wolf in sheep drag”.

  2. Sparkie Says:

    I believe drag is Polari in origin. Most sources that I’ve read (and kinda sorta hazily remember as I write this) say that it meant a costume with heavy symbolism or meaning. I’d be interested to re-read some of those sources (and primary sources if I could get my hands on ’em) to see if the sense of “double-ness” and being in on the punch line were there from the very start or only added on when Polari started being used as gay street slang in the early 20th century.

  3. X Nazi « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] has been mounting; X drag and X magnet are the ones I’ve posted about most recently (here and here). X Nazi came up on Language Log back in 2004, in a brief posting by Mark Liberman, […]

  4. doing X « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Compounds in the other order — X drag — are treated in my earlier “Drag” posting, here. […]

  5. X porn « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] X drag (link) […]

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