[ guhn-suhl ]

  1. a criminal armed with a gun.

  2. a young man in a sexual relationship with an older man; catamite.

Origin of gunsel

First recorded in 1910–15; probably from Yiddish genzel “gosling,” from Middle High German gensel (diminutive of gans “goose”); armed criminal sense by influence of gun1

word story For gunsel

In 1929, Dashiell Hammett used the word gunsel in The Maltese Falcon in a context where the meaning (“catamite”) was not clear in order to escape the publisher’s policy against vulgarity. The success of the book, and the film based on it, spread the unfamiliar word to an audience that came up with their own meaning (“armed gunman”). The fact that the word gunsel begins with gun and was used in the dialogue to refer to a vicious young hitman was arguably more craft than coincidence, but it’s doubtful that even Hammett himself could have predicted his influence on the development of the now more common meaning.

Words Nearby gunsel Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use gunsel in a sentence

  • And then again, a psychotic or a professional gunsel may not register at all.

    The Circuit Riders | R. C. FitzPatrick

British Dictionary definitions for gunsel


/ (ˈɡʌnsəl) /

nounUS slang
  1. a catamite

  2. a stupid or inexperienced person, esp a youth

  1. a criminal who carries a gun

Origin of gunsel

C20: probably from Yiddish genzel; compare German ganslein gosling, from gans goose 1

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012