Until the early 1980s, gay would’ve been marked [+moribund] in my vocab. The popularisation of the meaning “homosexual” gave it a new lease of life.
It wouldn’t have been until South Park was first aired that I would’ve heard the word in the other sense which I’d now regard as common – gay meaning “naff” or “rubbish”. Clearly this was derived from the homosexual sense of gay, and, in the early days, it probably had homophobic overtones.
I remember reading somewhere, online I believe, Language Log, perhaps, about some informal research on the current sense of the word gay. A number of people claimed that the “naff” sense was used in some varieties of English as far back as the 1960s, but the feeling was that this particular sense has probably been popularised by South Park.
Gay = naff has been round long enough for this to be a huge non-issue. There seems to be some belief that this meaning is kind of isolated from the way the rest of us use it because it’s part of the adolescent vocabulary. I was watching South Park when most of today’s adolescents were even that old. In other words, there will be twentysomethings and older who use the term as well.
I don’t know where the Sturm und Drang over this has come from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s coming from people who are, basically, out of touch. Language is notoriously difficult to regulate and the genii is already out of the bottle on this one; out long before Chris Moyles ever got there.
Nor is this especially new. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would sometimes come up with gay-themed humour. I think we had to invent some advertisements in English class when I was in the 4th form. There was one which started, “Are you tired of hoeing the pansies in the garden…” It was a laugh, but it wasn’t seriously aimed at anyone. Besides, when I was at school, no one would’ve admitted to being gay.
Actually, a few years after I’d left school I did hear that the guy who sat next to me in our form room in the 6th form had come out. I’d also heard that he’d got some girl pregnant, and rather suspected that the gay thing was a ploy to avoid that responsibility. I didn’t particularly like him, and his general behaviour didn’t suggest that he was even slightly gay. He may have been confused, or, more likely, clueless. He was certainly crass.
OK, that’s way too much gay-ass crap out of me on this subject.