from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. Slang A hoodlum or other criminal, especially one who carries a gun.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. A young man kept for homosexual purposes; a catamite.
- n. A passive partner in anal intercourse.
- n. A gun-carrying hoodlum or other criminal.
But he left the word gunsel because Hammett had used it so casually that Shaw took it for granted that the word pertained to a hired gunman.
Perhaps the editor had never come upon the word gunsel before; perhaps it even flashed across his mind that no such word existed (it is not in desk dictionaries); in any event, it was perfectly natural for the editor, having caught and deleted the supposedly offensive phrase, to let gunsel slip past.
Nearly every detective story writer in the business has taken over the word gunsel and used it to mean a gunman.
David L. Gold Oakland Gardens, New York You mention [XVII,3] the word gunsel as being a less common, old-fashioned term for ` gunman, 'etc.
The first expression, however - gunsel - had a pure and untainted mien; further, the person called a gunsel happened to be, in fact, a gunman; so the editor assumed that gunsel was just a synonym for gunman.
Then on top of that dictionary definition, the word 'gunsel' suggested 'Hansel' to me, and the old folk tale mated with the definition and started spawning horrors.
The story began with the word 'gunsel', which I discovered in the dictionary.
It amuses me that "gunsel" is now used to mean "gun-wielding gangster" by people who clearly don't know its linguistic roots.
I wonder if this is in any way related to the word "gunsel", which one source defines as a Yiddish word for a catemite and which apparently was hobo slang for a kept boy at the time of the Great Depression.
'gunsel' only took on its "tough-guy" connotation after Hammett put one over on his producers to slip it into the film of "The Maltese Falcom". before that its only meaning, from everything i've read, was the yiddish one, from 'ganzl'. that is, "kept boy/catamite/younger male lover/etc" - basically identical with the figure of the beloved boy in classical ghazals, muwashshahat, and other arabic and persian poetic forms.
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