Pansies

Picked up today at the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts, just a couple of blocks from my house (I first went to this street fair, with Jacques, in 1987): a card-sized reproduction of a painting by Ellen Jenkins Drew (website here) of stylized pansies:

Last time pansies came up on this blog was in my posting “That’s so gay” from Priday:

My files also have this somewhat more realistic representation of pansies:

(which I used in a massively complex XXX-rated, and therefore WordPress-unsuitable, collage that you can see here).

Back in “That’s so gay”, I noted that

The OED draft revision of June 2010 has “frequently derogatory” pansy ‘a male homosexual, an effeminate man, a weakling’ with cites from 1926, in the first sense, through 2003, in the third. The name of the flower goes back to about 1450.

The question is what brought about this item in the midst of the “C.S.F.” queer / faggot /  fairy / poofter litany (Pansy Division, Pile Up) I quoted in full in “That’s so gay”:

… A fuck bunny, fruitcake, cum superdeli, homo
Uncle Walt, Auntie Mame, little sissy pansy
Fudge-packing butt pirate, drag queen, hairdresser …

(There’s another inventory in a diatribe from Queer as Folk. There’s no one like a defiant faggot for scornfully reeling out the  vocabulary drill.)

The cites in the OED are not helpful here; they simply have the word used derogatorily. Maybe the intermediate stage is the development from pansy as the name of a flower to pansy as the name of a color. As the OED draft has it:

The colour of a pansy; spec. a deep shade of blue or purple.

1891 Daily News 19 Jan. 3/1 Woollen materials..in dark tones of red, russet,..violet, pansy, dahlia, petunia, &c. 1914 J. JOYCE Dubliners 227 A red-faced young woman, dressed in pansy. 1926 Eaton’s News Weekly 26 June 13/1 Bathing suit..in blue, cardinal, pansy, black. 1991 Newsday (Nexis) 28 Dec. 25 Having chosen the color, she poetically refers to them as pansy, palm, peach and peacock.

Looks like the shade in question is deep purple as opposed to violet or pink, or dark blue as opposed to lighter blue. That would certainly bring it into the orbit of the “gay color” purple.

We’d still need some evidence that the color pansy was seen as particularly flamboyant (like those obvious, flagrant homosexuals) or feminine (like those effeminate homosexuals), or that it was worn by some group of homosexual men, or by some particular notable homosexual man. We’d need some relevant cultural history.

And we’d need to find a way to get from the color word pansy (a mass noun) to the derogatory count noun pansy, a problem that wouldn’t arise if the derogatory noun came directly from the flower name. But if the derogatory term comes directly: why this particular flower? Are pansies considered to be especially gaudy flowers? Have they been associated with some group of male homosexuals? Again, we’d need some relevant cultural history.

One Response to “Pansies”

  1. Fair mammoth ears « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « Pansies […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: