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I wonder whether anyone can clear something up for me. I have encountered a couple of times (once in a review of the play) the claim that the Victorian audiences for Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Ernest” would have recognised in the word “ernest” a pun that relied on Victorian slang: one meaning of “earnest” was “homosexual,” roughly equivalent to the modern “gay.” Can anyone confirm or deny?

  • January 26, 2007
  • Posted by steven2
  • Filed in Usage

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Interesting, so I did a bit of click-research. In "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde", Neil McKenna claims that ‘earnest’was a corruption of the French "uraniste", meaning uranain, or third sex (for more on this see Wikipedia).

It makes sense, considering how clever Wilde was with words, and how much thought would go into the title of a work. Whether the corruption of the French was in fact common Victorian slang or was an invention of Wilde`s is another question.

ghoti January 29, 2007, 6:54pm

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I heard the same thing but I can't back it up with a reference as yet.

Dave23 January 29, 2007, 12:11am

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Yes     No