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Odd Double-Meaning of "Blue" in Russian

19. December 2012 by Lorena 0 Comments

Part of learning a language includes stumbling over odd bits of slang; either made up words, or dictionary words that have picked up a different meaning. One that may puzzle you is Russian slang for “gay.” There are actually several Russian words that mean blue. “голубой” (gah loo boi) refers to the color sky blue, as well as sexual orientation.


There’s no clear answer to questions of how the term for sky blue also came to mean gay. BBC researchers, in 1986, theorized that the term could have come from the British term “blue ribbons.” Blue ribbons referred to passive gay men in UK prisons. However, Russian etymologists say that they are doubtful the term made its way to Russian prisons. It was fairly uncommon in Britain in the first place, and there would have been little opportunity for it to pass over.


Other sources say that it comes from the 80s Moscow gay subculture, and is a vague reference to the theater district. Still others say it’s a reference to doves, specifically their blue-gray tail feathers.


It’s unlikely that you will meet large numbers of openly gay people in Russia. A significant amount of anti-gay sentiment is still part of life there. St. Petersburg recently became the ninth city to enact a law that bans “the promotion of the homosexual lifestyle.” Violators could be fined up to $10,000. Madonna criticized the ban during one of her concerts there. Nine plaintiffs filed suit against her, calling for her to pay the equivalent of $10 million in damages. However, in November of this year, the suit was thrown out. And, a similar bill was defeated in Moscow. There are other signs of progress, as well. In 2008, the last law outlawing homosexuality was removed from the books.

Photo: MojtabaT