Getting away with murder
The Maltese Falcon’s specialized homosexual slang gunned down in translation
In The Maltese Falcon (1929/1930), U.S. hard-boiled author Dashiell Hammett used common colloquial terms (queer and fairy) and specialized slang terms (gunsel, the gooseberry lay) to include homosexual characters at a time when pulp magazines and mainstream publishers frowned on diverse sexualities. Hammett subversively introduced these terms in a resolvably ambiguous fashion, relying on readers to trigger underlying homosexual interpretations. Instances of queer and fairy were attenuated in early versions (1933, 1946) but in more recent versions (1968, 1974, 1992, and 2011) were generally preserved (marica) or even intensified (maricón). In many cases, the Spanish translators misinterpreted the gooseberry lay, which has no sexual connotations at all, thinking it meant something homosexual. In all cases, the term gunsel, which does have a homosexual meaning, was stripped of all male same-sex significance and was cast into slang terms for gunman, thug or killer.
Keywords: ambiguity, hard-boiled novel, homosexuality, literature, translation, sex-related language, slang
- 1. The Maltese Falcon in Spanish: A state of the art
- 2.Sex-related language in translated literature
- 3.‘The gooseberry lay’ and ‘gunsel’
- 4.Ambiguous language to identify homosexual characters
- 5. The Maltese Falcon in Spanish
- 6.‘Queer’ and ‘fairy’ in Spanish
- 7.Spanish translations of ‘the gooseberry lay’
- 8.How do you say ‘gunsel’ in Spanish?
Published online: 22 September 2014
Berrey, Lester V., and Melvin Van den Bark
Carbonell Basset, Delfín
Chamizo Donínguez, Pedro J., and Francisco Sánchez Benedito
2010 “Una entrevista con Luis Murillo Fort, traductor de Cormac McCarthy.” TRANS: revista de traductología 141: 175–186. http://www.trans.uma.es/pdf/Trans_14/t14_175-186_MSDoyle.pdf
Franco Aixelá, Javier
2008 “Ideology and Translation. The Strange Case of a Translation Which Was Hotter Than the Original: Casas Gancedo and Hammett in The Falcon of the King of Spain (1933).” In New Trends in Translation and Cultural Identity, ed. by Micaela Muñoz Calvo, Carmen Bueso Gómez, and María Ángeles Ruiz Moneva, 95–104. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Franco Aixelá, Javier, and Carlos Abio Villarig
2009 “Manipulación ideológica y traducción: Atenuación e intensificación moral en la traducción de la novela negra norteamericana al español (1933-2001).” Hermeneus 111: 109–144. http://blogs.uva.es/hermeneus/hermeneus/11/arti04_11.pdf
2001  “From the Memoirs of a Private Detective.” In Hammett 2001, 905–909.
2001  “Suggestions to Detective Story Writers.” In Hammett 2001, 910–912.
2000b “Gay Community, Gay Identity and the Translated Text.” TTR: Traduction, terminologie, rédaction 13 (1): 137–168. http://www.erudit.org/revue/TTR/2000/v13/n1/037397ar.pdf DOI:
Herman, David J.
Lafforgue, Jorge, and Jorge B. Riviera
Layman, Richard, and Julie M. Rivett
Lighter, Jonathan Evan
2002 “Are There Homosexual Characters in The Maltese Falcon?” In Proceedings of the V Conference of the Spanish Association of American Studies (SAAS): Power and Culture in America: Forms of Interaction and Renewal, ed. by Antonio Rodríguez Celada, Daniel Pastor García, and Manuel González de la Aleja, 265–274. Salamanca: Universidad de Salamanca.
1933 Amaltea Dictionary of Spanish and English Slang, Idioms, Localisms, Cants, Dialects and Words in General Not Included up to Now in Spanish-English Dictionaries [Diccionario Amaltea Inglés y Español de modismos, localismos, jergas, frases y palabras que no estan incluídas en los diccionarios ingles-españoles]. Barcelona: Librería Sintes.
1999 “Note on the Texts.” In Hammett 1999, 960–962.
Tejero Penco, Cristina
The Maltese Falcon
Wentworth, Harold, and Stuart Berg Flexner
Cited by 2 other publications
Bianchi, Diana & Federico Zanettin
Urquízar, José Iglesias
This list is based on CrossRef data as of 23 april 2022. Please note that it may not be complete. Sources presented here have been supplied by the respective publishers. Any errors therein should be reported to them.