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The term's use as a reference to homosexuality may date as early as the late 19th century, but its use gradually increased in the 20th century.

In modern English, gay has come to be used as an adjective, and as a noun, referring to the people, especially to gay males, and the practices and cultures associated with homosexuality.

Among younger speakers, the word has a meaning ranging from derision (e.g., equivalent to rubbish or stupid) to a light-hearted mockery or ridicule (e.g., equivalent to weak, unmanly, or lame).

The title of the 1938 French ballet Gaîté Parisienne ("Parisian Gaiety"), which became the 1941 Warner Brothers movie, The Gay Parisian, The derived abstract noun gaiety remains largely free of sexual connotations and has, in the past, been used in the names of places of entertainment; for example W. Yeats heard Oscar Wilde lecture at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin.

Consequently, a number of euphemisms were used to hint at suspected homosexuality.

Examples include "sporty" girls and "artistic" boys, all with the stress deliberately on the otherwise completely innocent adjective.

The sixties marked the transition in the predominant meaning of the word gay from that of "carefree" to the current "homosexual". (1960), directed by Lewis Gilbert, about the antics of a British Army searchlight squad during World War II, there is a scene in the mess hut where the character played by Benny Hill proposes an after-dinner toast.

He begins, "I'd like to propose..." at which point a fellow diner, played by Sidney Tafler, interjects "Who to? The Benny Hill character responds, "Not to you for start, you ain't my type".

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