Gism (1901): something odd

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Sep 19 23:18:38 UTC 2007

>Um, guys?  Openly published 1901. In Philadelphia. About refined
>ladies of the previous century.
>   A mess of "poke" may not be what you think.
>   Whatever standard sense of "nectar" is intended, my guess is that
> "gism" was an undignified term for some or any kind of liquid or "juice."
>   My guess too is that "Bellespore" is the name of the estate,
> possibly meaning "beautiful sowing."

I assume "poke" refers to a plant, likely pokeweed (like in the song
about Poke Salad Annie), possibly skunk cabbage or some other plant (see DARE).

I assume "nectar" here exemplifies an elevated or poetic
word/concept, while "gism" is its vulgar equivalent: the gods have
nectar, the plain folks have ... what? gravy? juice? spunk?

I can't find "Bellespore" elsewhere in the book, or anywhere else, on
brief search. It is apparently not the name of the amateur poetess'
home, which was a farm named "Settle". I should have speculated "Bel
Espoir", although I find "Belle Espoir" and other variants here and
there too. This is possibly a place name, or maybe the name of some
local event, or even something from poetry or classics given the context.

The author, Mrs. Gillespie, was born in 1821, and the story is one
about her mother's youth, presumably told by the mother. The date
might be 1795-1805 or so. The mother was born in 1781.

Anyway, it seems likely that the 80-year-old author in 1901 saw
"gism" as something innocent enough, and it seems likely that the
ladies ca. 1800 also did. Of course we can't be 100% sure that the
100-year-old quotation is genuine/correct, but the fact that part of
it is incomprehensible suggests that it was not entirely a 1901 invention.

If the quotation is reliable, would this be the earliest known use of
"gism" in ANY sense?

The whole book can be read on-line, but I've read only part.

-- Doug Wilson

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