Re: RARA-AVIS: gunsel

Date: 27 Jun 2000 wrote:

(snip Chandler-trying-to-insert-pederasts story)

> boys playing football, and yank, out he would come. Finally he had
> an inspiration and he made Marlowe call one of the hoodlums
> a 'gunsel' and the editor let it pass. Chandler and his pals had a
> real yuk about it in private but they never gloated publicly. . . .

> "If you look it up in the dictionary, you'll see that the dictionary
> folks define 'gunsel,' in their piquant way, as a boy who's kept for
> immoral purposes. Ironically, of course, Chandler was so popular
> that his little joke ended up making gunsel into a synonym for
> gunman."

> Now Wilmer was referred to as a gunsel in The Maltese Falcon. So
> isn't this story actually about Hammett, not Chandler? Or is there
> an equivalent story about Chandler?

Quoting from the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins:

"Gunsel, for `a cheap thief or cimrinal,' is another word reinforced by 'gun' in the mind but which really has nothing to do with any weapon. 'Gunsel' derives from either the German 'ganzel' or the Yiddish 'gantzel,' both meaning a gosling. At the beginning of this century prisoners and hoboes called young, inexperienced boys, especially homosexuals, gunsels. From constant underworld use, where it later meant a sly, sneaky person, it was adopted generally as a term for a 'run-of-the-mob,' usually second-rate criminal."

From this entry it sounds to me like "gunsel" was in common use as a synonym for catamite by the 1920s, so one can hardly credit or blame Chandler or Hammett for its use or its acquiring the gunman meaning.

jess, doesn't have a copy of Wicked Words at hand or I'd have checked that one, too

# To unsubscribe, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
# The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 27 Jun 2000 EDT