When I was young the word gay was usually used to mean amusing, cheery, high spirited, bright and pleasant. Or it might have been used to mean showy such as a bird with gay plumage. Gradually the meaning of homosexual took hold and we would rarely describe someone as gay nowadays if we simply meant they were cheery and bright.
But I had not realised the word had yet another connotation in Victorian times until I read Samuel Butler’s “Way of All Flesh”:-
"...and it’s a horrid lie to say she is gay; not but what I like a gay woman, I do: I’d rather give a gay woman half-a-crown than stand a modest woman a pot o’ beer, but I don’t want to go associating with bad girls for all that.”
Gay girls were bad girls – that is, they were given to social pleasures often including dissipation.
From the Ground
13 hours ago