Gist, Jest, Gest

Get the Gist of an Argument, or Be Subject to a Jest, Not a Gest

by Owen Fourie

It is this way with locusts. You see one in your garden, and you are inclined to ignore it. It’s just one, so relax! Next time, it’s not one—it’s ten, twenty, thirty… Now, they have your attention.

It was the same with using jest for gist. There seemed to be the solitary instance on the Internet. Leave it. Everybody knows it should be gist in that context. Wrong! The plague is here.

Take the relevant part of this statement about a “money-making” deal:

here’s the jest of what you get in the system …

Wherever you look, jest is being used for gist, so jist give me a minute, and we’ll sort out the confusion. (Is there a mistake in this sentence?)

The following tabulation is a quick and easy reference point for you to unravel any confusion that you might have about these words: gist, jest, gest, and jist.

Gist, Jest, Gest, Jist,
Word Meaning Origin Example
Gist It is something that lies in the center of a matter. It is the heart of the matter or the argument.

It is the essence, the core, the essential point of an idea, a speech, a literary work.

Old French gist en (it lies in, it consists in); from gesir (to lie);

from Latin jacet (it lies);

from jacere (to lie)

[not to be confused with telling a lie]

Gist appears in the Anglo-French legal phrase l’action gist speaking of the basis of a legal action.

If that ground is missing, the legal action has no substance.

To understand a complicated argument, you must get to its gist.

The gist of his argument is that we should be allowed to teach ourselves.

Jest As a noun, it refers to something said lightheartedly—a joke;

an amusing action;

the act of poking fun at an object of ridicule.

As a verb, it speaks of doing these things:


acting playfully;

scoffing at someone or something for the amusement of others.

Latin: gesta (actions, exploits); from gestus, past participle of gerere (to do, to carry on or carry out) Don’t take it so seriously; he did it in jest.

If you write about the jest of the argument when you should write gist, you deserve to be the subject of a jest.

Gest (or Geste) not in common use today

mainly used as a noun for a notable deed, especially the story about it told in verse

some other meanings include

a person’s mien (bearing, manner);

stages of a royal journey;

time for a pause in such a journey;

as a verb:

to tell a tale;

to take cattle out to pasture

Latin: gesta (actions, exploits); from gestus, past participle of gerere (to do, to carry on or carry out) chansons de geste, such as La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland), a major work of French literature
Jist not a word in English evidently a nonstandard form of just Wait jist a minute! should be “Wait just a minute!”

The Internet is wonderful for open communication, but with this freedom comes the condition of poorly written English that many seem to think is fine.

What such error-filled writing reveals is that there is much

  • that is written according to what is incorrectly heard;
  • that is not verified by referring to dictionaries;
  • that is simply accepted as being correct without question;
  • that is written hurriedly without any concern for correctness;
  • that does not help serious learners of English as a foreign language.

With such disregard for the standards of correct usage

  • confusion and misunderstanding will increase;
  • understanding of English, especially its literature, will become more difficult.

People who write jest for gist seem to be unaware of the existence of gist. There is a distinction in pronunciation, and that should be sufficient to alert them to the existence of another word, but they seem to hear gist as jest and write it as jest.

With the above tabulation in hand, you won’t make this mistake.


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are there other words that you have noticed being used instead of the correct one? If you are confused about any of these words, ask about them here for clarification.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2011 by English Essay Writing Tips


    • David on April 18, 2013 at 12:18

    I came upon the word “gest” and sought insight on the net when I came upon your link.
    Nicely done, and thanks.

    1. Thank you, David, for your comment. I am glad you found this item useful.

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