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Gay is a term that primarily refers to a homosexual person or the trait of being homosexual.The term was originally used to mean "carefree", "happy", or "bright and showy".For example, the optimistic 1890s are still often referred to as the Gay Nineties.

He then adds in mock doubt, "Oh, I don't know, you're rather gay on the quiet." By 1963, a new sense of the word gay was known well enough to be used by Albert Ellis in his book The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Man-Hunting. in his 1964 novel Last Exit to Brooklyn, could write that a character "took pride in being a homosexual by feeling intellectually and esthetically superior to those (especially women) who weren't gay...." Later examples of the original meaning of the word being used in popular culture include the theme song to the 1960–1966 animated TV series The Flintstones, whereby viewers are assured that they will "have a gay old time." Similarly, the 1966 Herman's Hermits song "No Milk Today", which became a Top 10 hit in the UK and a Top 40 hit in the U.S., included the lyric "No milk today, it was not always so / The company was gay, we'd turn night into day." In June 1967, the headline of the review of the Beatles' Sgt.In mid-20th century Britain, where male homosexuality was illegal until the Sexual Offences Act 1967, to openly identify someone as homosexual was considered very offensive and an accusation of serious criminal activity.Additionally, none of the words describing any aspect of homosexuality were considered suitable for polite society.The extent to which these usages still retain connotations of homosexuality has been debated and harshly criticized.

In English, the word's primary meaning was "joyful", "carefree", "bright and showy", and the word was very commonly used with this meaning in speech and literature.

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".

The word continued to be used with the dominant meaning of "carefree", as evidenced by the title of The Gay Divorcee (1934), a musical film about a heterosexual couple.

Bringing Up Baby (1938) was the first film to use the word gay in apparent reference to homosexuality.

Gay was the preferred term since other terms, such as queer, were felt to be derogatory.