kæmp • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Deliberately vulgar, banal, and outlandish to the point of funniness, possibly suggesting homosexuality. Susan Sontag's essay "Notes on Camp" (1964) explores a 58-part definition—more than we have space to cover here.
Notes: Today's adjective originally referred to the exaggerated effeminate dress and behavior of some homosexuals. Since then the meaning has dissolved and spread over any overstated or tasteless fashion or behavior. Campy is a diminutive of today's Good Word, meaning "somewhat camp", as in "That hat is a bit campy for the rest of your outfit." Camp is often confused with kitsch but kitsch carries the implication of cheapness and shoddiness that camp does not imply.
In Play: This word is closely associated with fashion and is most often used in connection with dress: "I think Tanya's Carmen Miranda fruit bowl hat is a bit camp for a church wedding." However, it is not bound exclusively to reference to clothing fashion: "Don't you think a pink Cadillac with steer horns on the hood is a bit too camp for a university president?"
Word History: Today's Good Word was originally associated with homosexuality, referring to the overstated fashion of some gay men; in fact, this is probably the origin of the word. While no one knows for sure, the best guess is that it originated in police jargon, where KMP was the abbreviation for "known male prostitute", an appellation applied all too broadly in the last century. A less likely source is the French verb camper, which could at one time mean "to portray something brazenly, vividly", a meaning which is now archaic . (Our thanks today is due Peggy Nielsen for this mysterious, difficult to define word and to Stanley Hudson for help with the French.)
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