Originally, this was an Elizabethan-era word meaning "a boy who has sexual relations with a man". Nowadays, it is rarely-used slang for a gunman. You may be thinking that's a mighty wide gap between original meaning and modern usage, and you'd be right. The newer meaning came about because mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, while writing his hard-boiled crime classic "The Maltese Falcon", was trying to refer to Wilmer, the cheap thug employed by Kaspar Gutman, as a homosexual. He figured his publisher would balk at actually using the word "homosexual" or any associated slang terms, so he used "gunsel" instead, assuming that most people would not know the true meaning of the word. As it turned out, "gunsel" was quickly adopted, both by the public and by the underworld, as one of the slang terms for "gun-toting gangster". It's a good thing those gun-toting gangsters didn't know what Hammett really meant...

gunsel or gonzel; gonzel; guncel; guntzel; gunzl
early 1900 hoboes & prison slang, from German/Yiddish "ganzel" (gosling)
  1. the passive partner in anal intercourse.
  2. a young, inexperienced male homosexual.
  3. (prison slang) a passive boy kept by another inmate.
  4. A sexually vulnerable boy or young man ; catamite = punk.

Compiled from Wizard's Gay Slang Dictionary (http://www.hurricane.net/~wizard/19.html)


Also, another mildly amusing example of what the writeup above describes, would be the 1982 film Hammett, directed by Wim Wenders and starring Frederic Forrest as Dashiell Hammett. It is based on a novel of the same name by Joe Gores (unread by me) and intermingles several episodes and characters originating from Hammet's novels with Hammett's real life (on the verge of becoming a writer he does a favor to his former boss at the Pinkerton detective agency). One of the scenes has an entire dialogue between Hammett and another character about the original meaning of the word gunsel (young/passive homosexual) versus the perceived meaning (gun-toting gangster).

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