[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 8 January, 2005, 00:03 GMT
Club's 'bona' way to communicate
By Nick Rutherford
BBC News

Kenneth Williams
Kenneth Williams used Polari in the radio show Round the Horne
A secret gay slang coined in the 1950s when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK is enjoying a renaissance at a London nightclub.

What was once a way for gay men and women to communicate without revealing their sexuality to those not "in the know" is now helping workers from several different nations overcome language barriers.

Madam Jo Jo's, a nightclub in Soho catering to a mixed crowd of partygoers, employs workers from all over Europe who find it easier to use Polari as it incorporates elements of their own languages.

Polari became known to a wider audience when used in the BBC radio show Round the Horne in the 60s.

Characters Julian and Sandy, played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, would regularly speak to each other using the code.

There are around 150 words of Polari which are mixed and matched with everyday English, and the list is still growing.

Aqua - water
Bona - good
Cod - bad
Dinarli - money
Fabulousa - great
Funt - a pound
Manjaree - to eat
Multee - a lot, many
Omee - man
Nanti - none, no, don't
Palone - woman
Schumph - to drink
Vada - to see, to look at
Vogue - cigarette
Zhoosh - drinking

It is made up from elements of English (backwards slang and rhyming slang), Italian, Yiddish, circus slang and Romany.

Polari was used from the turn of the 20th century to the early 1970s by the gay community and theatre workers.

It died out as other language trends took over.


Staff at Madame Jo Jo's use Polari words including aqua (water), bona (good), dinarli (money), fabulousa (great) and funt (pound).

Promotions manager Chris Allan said: "It's just the ideal thing. We have a real problem when we get members of staff together where some speak, say, French and others Italian, but not everyone has a common language - it is a common problem in the West End.

"Finding a communal language is not always easy and Polari seemed a good place to start. It's gone down amazingly well with the staff.

"They have picked it up really quickly, probably because it's made up of elements of their own languages.


"Polari would have been prevalent when Jojo's first started - there's been a club here since the 50s. In a way we have reinvented Esperanto for the modern clubber."

Coincidentally, Polari is also being heard again in Round the Horne... Revisited, a homage to the original radio shows being performed at The Venue theatre, in London's West End.

The play was written by Brian Cooke, who was one of the original scriptwriters on the radio series.

Mr Cooke said: "It's a fun idea. The whole idea of Polari was to liven up the camp chat between gay guys or girls.

"It's not really a serious language - there are no tenses, for example.

"The idea is that it is just dropped into the conversation, but if this means various waiters and customers can understand each other better that's fine."

Children to write slang letters
10 Nov 04 |  Education
Slang makes youths 'unemployable'
11 Mar 04 |  Business

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific