In the early 19th Century it was used to refer to women who lived off immoral earnings," he says. Around the 1970s it was claimed by the homosexual community as a descriptive term for their sexual orientation, now its most popular meaning. By the 1980s it was finding its way into schools as a playground insult.
"Every generation grows up with a whole lexicon of homosexual insults, in my day it was 'poofter' or 'bender'," says slang lexicographer Tony Thorne. "They were used much more because they were considered more offensive than 'gay', which is more neutral."And where did the use of the term "gay" as a put-down come from? The U.S. of A.!
"The use of "gay" in this particular way was first recorded at the end of the 1970s and developed among US high school students, says Mr Throne. It's not only youngsters in the UK who have recently adopted it, the same has happened to the German equivalent, schwul, he adds.
This mutation of the word is one reason why using "gay" as in a pejorative sense often goes unchallenged. Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles caused controversy in 2006 for his casual use of the word. He said he'd used it to describe something as "rubbish" and was backed by the BBC.
"The word has what we call multiple coinage and that's the problem," says Mr Thorne. "While teenagers are generally using it to mean 'lame' it can separately be used as a homophobic term of abuse."Click here for more!