Where Does the Term “Fruity” Come From?


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“Fruity” and “fruitcake” have long been used as slurs for gay or effeminate men.

As slurs and slang fold their way into our day-to-day lives, how important is it to identify and understand the deep-rooted history behind them? Phrases are adjusted and filtered down throughout many generations, while many disregard them because they’re insensitive in 2021. It’s essential to dive into where these terms have come from. 

While some only hear the word “fruity” through comedians or the modern-day “gay TikTok,” resurrecting LGBTQ language allows a narrative that makes sexuality a common conversation in the everyday. As Mayukn Sen states elegantly, “It is important… for modern queer activists and audiences and people to establish our history because history is where we find validation: it’s a validation against the accusation of us as sin, as aberrant.” Not only does this allow queer history to unearth a previously disregarded part of the past, but it offers a place to analyze the phrases used. So often is it that people will repeat and recite words without understanding the underlying message behind them. This is not to say that we must analyze every term ever used, but instead educate ourselves when discussing valuable topics such as gender, race, sexuality, and others deeply rooted in history.

In the 19th Century, the origins of phrases related to “fruit” lay in British sex workers and the LGBTQ community. Gay men especially would use the term among themselves, gently poking fun at their feminine qualities. But as the words became more mainstream, the word twisted itself as a joke used against the community rather than by it and became an internationally used phrase, moving to North America.

Fast forward to 1952, and the APA’s manual had defined being gay as a “sociopathic personality disturbance,” issuing a need for therapy involving physical and mental procedures in the hopes of “curing” homosexuality. This was when “fruit” wove into “fruitcake,” fusing into the well-known phrase “nutty as a fruitcake.” As many know, “nuts” became a synonym for “crazy” because of this association. By the mid-1800s, “nut” was slang for “mental” and used in everyday language. Today, the meaning of the word has returned mainly to how it was originally used: without negative connotation leftover from the 70s. Smaller groups reclaiming the word and rewriting history.

The history of LGBTQ language is the history of LGBTQ people. It allows us to understand ourselves and how we have been understood in society: through rewriting the story for ourselves, empowerment and visibility become more apparent than ever. We live in a time where visibility and recognition feel vital, and reading between the lines becomes the nesting ground for a deep connection to a community.