History Overview Cartoon from Punch magazine in illustrating the use of "gay" as a colloquial euphemism for being a prostitute. The word gay arrived in English during the 12th century from Old French gai, most likely deriving ultimately from a Germanic source. For example, the optimistic s are still often referred to as the Gay Nineties. It was apparently not until the 20th century that the word began to be used to mean specifically "homosexual", although it had earlier acquired sexual connotations. The word may have started to acquire associations of immorality as early as the 14th century, but had certainly acquired them by the 17th. A gay woman was a prostitute , a gay man a womanizer , and a gay house a brothel.