Jest Jesting

November 16, 2010

Word of the Day for Tuesday, November 16, 2010, from

gest \JEST\, noun:

1. A notable deed or exploit.
2. Archaic: A metrical romance or history.

Not every gest is social: there is nothing social in the movements a man makes in order to brush off a fly; but if this same man, poorly dressed, is struggling against guard-dogs, the gest becomes social.
— Roland Barthes, Stephen Heath, Image, music, text

Perhaps the greatest problem with Holt’s approach is that it requires us to believe that the details of the gest can be used as evidence of the content of the original Robin Hood story, which he himself believes to predate the mid-thirteenth century.
— Jeffrey L. Singman, Robin Hood: the shaping of the legend

Gest shares the same roots as jest, “to joke,” from the Latin gerrere, “to carry on.”

Also related to gesture, gesticulate, gestate.

From this word comes the literary genre chanson de geste (French spelling), meaning a long narrative poem, often sung (chanson means song), about the noble deeds and exploits of heroes, usually knights. The Song of Roland is one, and the Arthurian tales, which originated in Medieval France, tell of the deeds of the knights of the Round Table.

The words jest and jester are related through that literary sense. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:


mid-14c., jestour (Anglo-Latin), late 14c., gestour “a minstrel, professional reciter of romances,” from gesten “recite a tale,” which was a jester’s original function (see jest). Sense of “buffoon in a prince’s court” is from c.1500.


c.1300, “narrative of exploits” (originally in verse), from O.Fr. geste “action, exploit,” from L. gesta “deeds,” neuter plural of gestus, pp. of gerere “to carry, behave, act, perform.” Sense descended through “idle tale” (late 15c.) to “mocking speech, raillery” (1540s) to “joke” (1550s). The verb in the sense of “to speak in a trifling manner” is from 1520s. Related: Jested; jesting.

Roland pledges his fealty to Charlemagne; from a manuscript of a chanson de geste.  Wikipedia

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