Gay day (and virgins)

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Yesterday, 10 November, was International Human Rights Day, and for the occasion two San Franciscans spearheaded a protest and boycott (across the U.S.) on behalf of gay rights and in opposition to California's Proposition 8 (which banned same-sex marriage).  Two points of linguistic interest: the name of the event is "A Day Without a Gay" (sometimes reported as "A Day Without Gays"), and people are encouraged to "call in gay" to work.

(The webpage for the event is here. There are stories all over the place, for instance this one suggested to me by Ben Zimmer.)

The name "A Day Without a Gay" is based most immediately on "A Day Without a Mexican" (the title of a 2004 film, directed by Sergio Arau, about a day of Hispanic protest), and has the additional virtue of rhyming. But there are lots of "A Day Without X" precedents, among them: A Day Without Art (12/1/89), A Day Without Facebook (9/12/06), A Day Without Google (or any other major search engine, 6/12/07), and a proposal that, to save the oceans, you pick one day and make it A Day Without Plastic.

"Call in gay" is of course based on the idiom "call in sick (to work)". Ben Zimmer noted on ADS-L on 9 December:

It appears that one inspiration for the snowclone-y substitution of "call in sick" with "call in gay" is this quote, attributed to lesbian activist Robin Tyler: "If homosexuality is a disease, let's all call in queer to work: 'Hello. Can't work today, still queer.'"

This reminds me a bit of the "driving while X" snowclone. Here are some other "call in X (to work)" variations attested on the Web: stupid, grumpy, sad, crazy, dead, drunk, ugly, fat, stinky, gray [referring to hair dye], gasless [from the days of high gas prices], empty [ditto], cold, well, healthy, rich, hysterical, constipated, allergic, seasonally affective, kidnapped, Republican, Democrat. (From a Google search of: {"call in * to work" -"call in sick|late|gay|queer"}.

(Many are of the negative form, "you can't call in X to work", or the interrogative, "can I call in X to work?")

Larry Horn then added:

There's also, in a related snowclone, "stage an X-out" (sick-out), I assume based on walk-out, such as staging a gay-out or queer-out. (Too close to outing?)  

And there's always the blue flu for police job actions, although I don't know if that's sponsored snowclones, given the rhyme factor.  Hair stylists  staging a do-flu?  Tiger-cage cleaners putting on a zoo-flu? Underpaid rabbis organizing for…well, you get the idea.

Here we're in the murky area between idioms with open slots in them and snowclones; notice that Ben Zimmer called the pattern "call in X" merely "snowclone-y". Both originate in some fixed expression, which is then varied by replacement of one (or more) of the parts by other items. It might not be profitable to try to draw a crisp line between small-scale snowclone-y patterns (snowclonelets?) and larger-scale snowclones.

A snowclonelet came past us a little while ago, in my posting on "Whopper virgin". The original here is the simple lexical item virgin 'someone who has not experienced sex' (for some sense of sex — a topic for some future posting), which is varied by addition rather than replacement, to give "X virgin" 'someone who has not experienced X'. There are tons of instances.

First, still in the sexual arena, there's "oral virgin" (oral sex) and "anal virgin" (anal sex), with some variation in usage as to which roles (insertive, receptive, either, both) are referred to. And plenty of nonce creations, among them:

Brickworks virgin [the Brick Works site in Toronto], Tolkien virgin [books by Tolkien], Glasto virgin [the Glastonbury music festivals], Pippi virgin [the Pippi Longstocking books], Bassmaster virgin [the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament, for bass fishing], tonsillolith virgin [tonsil stones], Cariban(a) virgin [the Caribana festival in Toronto], festie virgin [the Michigan Womyns Music Festival], bulgogi virgin [the Korean dish bulgogi], Astaire virgin [Fred Astaire movies], L&O virgin [the television show Law and Order], Easterhegg virgin [annual event organized by Germany's Chaos Computer Club]

Note that 'someone who hasn't experienced X' is only a stab at the actual meanings. "X virgin" expressions are in fact noun-noun compounds, and as we've pointed out several times in Language Log (for instance, here), the semantic relationship between the two nouns in such compounds can be quite complex and indirect. An Astaire virgin, for instance, is not really someone who hasn't experienced an Astaire, but refers to experience with something involving a particular Astaire (Fred and not Adele), namely the experience of watching movies starring Fred Astaire.



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