16 November 2012

Drag Queen’s English

The term Queens English, as defined in the Concise OED, refers to “the English language as correctly written and spoken in Britain”. Everybody knows that the Queen of England, since 1952, is Elizabeth II. Not all people, however, are familiar with the Queen of the United States, Her Majesty RuPaul. And like a Queen Midas, RuPaul has an ability to turn everything that she touches into drag, including English. In his reality tv series, RuPauls Drag Race (Logo), RuPaul has presented the audience with a peculiar facet of English – an English that greatly characterise the essence of linguistic strangeness, an English that I call Drag Queens English.

Although the host (RuPaul) of Rupauls Drag Race essentially speaks American English, it’s the way he bend some rules and depart from the norms of language that dresses English up in drag – or, as RuPaul probably would say, dragulates the English.

Since the features of linguistic strangeness from Drag Queen’s English are many – and I intend to explore them in future posts – this post is limited to show how RuPaul dragulates vocabulary.

In season one, RuPaul seemed quite shy to dragulate vocabulary. The most common feature of dragulation is applied to the third person pronoun He / Him. She / Her are used instead, by Rupaul, the contestants, judges, and most guests, to address both contestants and RuPaul, whether they are in drag or not. During the runway presentation, echoing the word Extravaganza, RuPaul usually shouts Eleganza! And after the contestants lip-sync, instead of stating “you win / you lose”, RuPaul states their fate with more musical terms: Chantey, you stay / Sashay away. Only once, RuPaul used Goils – in “Just between us goils” (ep. 04); Goils would become frequently used after this initial season.
It was from season two onwards, that vocabulary dragulation really set off. One example is She-mail, when RuPaul announces “You’ve got She-mail.” Also from season two (ep. 07), RuPaul ends a fairy-tale with the stock phrase: And they lived draggily ever after.
From third season on, RuPaul exchanges the t and g from the word Congratulations; and since t sounds like a d in many English dialects, the winning contestants are praised with Condragulations. Another word favoured by RuPaul is Herstory.
And when RuPaul touches the subject of English in season three, he even jokes: “Here at RuPauls Drag Race we don’t just entertain. We edumacate.” Edumacate is a word used to mock the meaning of educate.

Season four started with “The big drag disaster of all time: the RuPocalypse…” Other words that appeared were Glamazon and Dragazines.
The current All Stars edition introduced Shelarious and Shemergency.
“Just neologisms,” you may say.
I’m inclined to affirm that besides being neologisms such words epitomise a natural principle of deviation (strangeness) operating within the language. It seems evident that with each successful season of the show, as RuPaul grows in confidence so grows the frequency with which such words are used in the show. Linguistic strangeness surfaces as RuPaul feels comfortable. And this is another evidence that support Crystal’s hypothesis “that it’s normal to be strange, as regards the use of language.”
While descriptions of the Queen’s English are generally found in prescriptive grammar books and normative dictionaries, descriptions of the Drag Queen’s English are not as easily available. So, in terms of English, RuPaul and the contestants of Drag Race are bringing a great contribution to the general American audience and particularly to learners of English around the world.

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