The Finger/the birdbi

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Jan 24 11:37:00 UTC 2002

>>Are there any languages where a "gan-" named bird brings the baby instead of
>>the stork? Isn't Ganz* = bastard? I see that I was a bit geo-centric in
>>thinking "the bird" was well known to be the goose.
>There's a neat folk etymology sponsored by that particular goose.
>"Gunsel" was originally "ganzel" < Yiddish gendzl 'little goose', for
>a boy, especially a young punk, or sometimes a young gay man --I'm
>told that in prison lingo it often specifically denotes a passive
>homosexual--but the form has shifted to "gunsel" and the meaning to
>'gunman, hood, thug', e.g. in The Maltese Falcon (early 1940's).
>It's been reconfigured to evoke a a firearm rather than a waterfowl.

Mencken mentioned "guntzel" in 1936, I think, as tramps' slang for what we
might gloss "punk", i.e., a tramp's boy companion, presumably usually or
often a catamite; "guntzel" was also (later?) used for "fool" in carny
slang. I think this indeed looks like "gosling" in Yiddish or perhaps some
other German dialect, although why/how the word was adopted into English
isn't clear to me. It seems to me that the original picture might have been
of a gosling following behind its mother.

A synonym was "prushun", and I've seen this more often, in tramp studies
(from ca. 1920 and later), This word seems somewhat mysterious, sometimes
said to be derived from "impression" (perhaps in the sense of
"impressionable"; or perhaps originally something like [the older tramp's]
"[spitten] image" or "protegé"), although it's tempting to equate it to
"Prussian" (with what implication I don't know).

Perhaps some Germanicist can explain why the umlaut is omitted ... i.e. (in
my primitive conception) why it's like "gansel"/"gunsel" rather than

-- Doug Wilson

More information about the Ads-l mailing list