The word “drag” has served several purposes in underworld slang, but has been used to signify female attire worn by a man for at least a century. In 1914, Jackson’s Vocabulary of Criminal Slang reported,
“Among female impersonators on the stage and men of dual sexual instincts, ‘drag’ denotes female attire donned by a male.”
Two years earlier, the English lexicographer John Farmer reported that,
“To go on (or flash) the drag [is] to wear woman’s attire for immoral purposes.”
Farmer tells us that the underworld also used the word “drag” to signify “a lure, trick [or] stratagem,” and suggests that this usage may have originated in the jargon of fox hunting. Among fox hunters, a “drag” was a fox that had been doused with a pungent decoction of anise seed or herring, and that therefore more easily “dragged” a pack of baying hounds over the fields and through the hedgerows of merry old England.
By 1935, San Francisco police reported that a “drag” was “a dancehall or ball where perverts (nances) and degenerates gather,”* and by 1950 “drag” was a name for the receiving partner in homosexual fellatio, and sometimes for homosexuals generally.** The first usage may have been suggested by a connection to the public thoroughfares (“main drags”) where homosexual assignations were made, the second by the resemblance of fellatio to taking “drags” on a cigarette.
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Homosexuals have referred to one another as “queens” since the early twentieth century,*** possibly because the word has long meant a loose woman or whore. In Old English, cwene denoted a woman or wife, but with the spelling changed to quean, it came to denote a common prostitute. Here are some lyrics from a seventeenth-century song:
“Let our humorous poets flatter rottenness and paint,
And call her saint,
Making a Quean a Queen with language quaint.”†
And here are some other lyrics from another song of the same century:
“My bongrace [bonnet] and my sun-burnt face
He praised, and also my russet gown,
But now he dotes on the copper lace
Of some lewd quean of London town.”††
The royal title of queen also comes from the Old English cwene, and thus originally meant the premier woman or wife in the kingdom; but the title of queen (two e’s) naturally extended to any woman who acted the part of a prima donna.
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The etymological roots of “drag queen” are therefore somewhat but not altogether obscure. It appears likely that “drag” first meant something like “bate” or “lure,” and that this meaning was reinforced by the fact that the bate was cast on a “drag” (public thoroughfare) and resulted in an act that resembled taking “drags” on a cigarette. Likewise, homosexuals likely called each other “queens” in recognition of their promiscuity (queans) and their flamboyance (queens).
Unless qualified in some way, the title of “drag queen” should be taken to denote a male prostitute who dresses in women’s clothing to either titillate or deceive his partner. The title should not be used to describe men who gratify themselves by dressing as women, or who don women’s clothing to engage in buffoonery.
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The students at this university have long been known as Aggies, and their peculiar cultural bubble has long been known as Aggieland. As you can see, the Aggies will very shortly have an opportunity not only to watch, but also to be, Draggies; and for at least one evening their cultural bubble will be transformed into Draggieland. This suggests a need to update the lyrics of the school song.
Some may boast of prowess bold
Of the school they think so grand
But there’s a spirit can ne’er be told
It’s the Spirit of Draggieland
We are the Draggies, the Draggies are we
True to each other as Draggies can be
We’ve got to fight boys
We’ve got to fight!
We’ve got to fight for Maroon and White
After they’ve boosted all the rest
Then they will come and join the best
For we are the Draggies, the Draggies are we
We’re from Texas DMC†††
(HUMP IT DRAGS)
*) Albin Hay Pollock, The Underworld Speaks (1935)
**) Hyman E. Goldin (ed.), Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo (1950)
***) Henry Davidson, Forensic Psychiatry (1952)
†) “The Inspired Lover,” in The Academy of Pleasure (1656)
††) Thomas D’Urfey, New Collections of Songs and Poems (1683)
†††) When this song was written, this university was called the Agricultural and Mechanical College, hence the acronym AMC.