adj. queer·er, queer·est
a. Deviating from what is expected or normal; strange: "The light above his head made a queer reflection of himself in the glowing wineglass" (Carson McCullers).
b. Odd or unconventional, as in behavior; eccentric: "His mother is very queer, with witchy hair and mismatched shoes" (Caroline Preston).
c. Of a questionable nature or character; suspicious: thought there was something queer about his explanation.
a. Offensive Slang Gay or lesbian.
b. Usage Problem Of or relating to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transgender people.
3. Feeling slightly ill, as in being dizzy or queasy.
1. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a gay man or a lesbian.
2. Usage Problem A lesbian, gay male, bisexual, or transgender person.
tr.v. queered, queer·ing, queers
To ruin or thwart: "might try to queer the Games with anything from troop movements ... to a bomb attack" (Newsweek).
[Perhaps from Low German, oblique, off-center, from Middle Low German dwer; see terkw- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: A reclaimed word is a word that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been semantically overturned by members of the maligned group, who use it as a term of defiant pride. Queer is an example of a word undergoing this process. For decades queer was used as a derogatory adjective for gays and lesbians, but in the 1980s the term began to be used by gay and lesbian activists as a term of self-identification. Eventually, it came to be used as an umbrella term that included gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. Nevertheless, a sizable percentage of people to whom this term might apply still hold queer to be a hateful insult, and its use by heterosexuals is often considered offensive. Similarly, other reclaimed words are usually offensive to the in-group when used by outsiders, so caution must be taken with their use when one is not a member of the group.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.