some footnotes to recent postings

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Jan 24 16:22:59 UTC 2002

Someone posted: "I first encountered "three-finger(ed) salute" in the
Boy Scouts, and "two-finger(ed) salute" in Cub Scouts.  Goes back way
before my time."  I was a Cub Scout in the late 1940s, and recall that
the Cubs used a two-finger salute, and that we were promised that if we
persevered and became Boy Scouts, we would be allowed to give a salute
with three fingers.

I might point out that Archer Taylor wrote a short book in the mid
1950s on the "Shanghai Gesture", aka cocking a snoot.  (Published in
Helsinki in 1956 as FF Communication 66.1)  I read it many years ago,
and was fascinated by the means Prof. Taylor used to document the
history of a hand-gesture.  Also: there are two chapters in Rabelais'
Gargantua and Pantagruel in which characters "debate" in obscene and
insulting gestures.

Someone raised the question of the species of the bird under Casey
Stengel's hat.  I looked in the index of Robert Creamer's bio of
Stengel, fruitlessly.  It needs to be a bird likely to be found in a
baseball stadium and small enough to fit under a hat.  I have seen
Black-crowned Night Herons while at Yankee Stadium, but they are too
big.  Plus, they were just flying past.  (For you birdwatchers out
there: no, I didn't see the marks that distinguish them from Yellow-
crowned Night Herons, but the latter are even less common around NYC
than the Black-crowned.)  Dave Winfield notoriously hit and killed a
gull with a throw from the outfield, and was arrested for cruelty to
animals; but gulls, though sometimes common in ballparks, are also
large.  I speculate a sparrow.

Dashiell Hammett's use of "Gunsel".  I remember having read many years
ago that Hammett had bet someone that he would put an indecent word
into the Maltese Falcon.  A quick check of several Hammett bios doesn't
entirely confirm this, but William F. Nolan's Hammett: A Life at the
Edge says: "Strong editorial censorship existed in the popular
magazines during this period.  ***  Sex was a problem.  Brigid's
line, "I'm not ashamed to be naked before you" was dropped. . . .  ***
Hammett's line from Spade "How long have you been off the gooseberry
lay, son?" was changed to "How long have you been off the lay?" since
[his editor] was certain Hammett had something gamy in mind.  He was
mistaken.  A "gooseberry lay" was crook slang for stealing wash form a
clothesline.  However, [his editor] did not touch the line "Keep that
gunsel away from me. . . ."  He assumed that the word "gunsel" meant
gunman.  Actually, it was a homosexual term that meant "kept boy."
(pp. 93-94)


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998.

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