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I am currently in a dilemma with my significant other. We woke up this morning and one of us said.

Person 1: "I am going to brush my teeth and gist."

Person 2's argument was that gist is an overall idea of something, or a snapshot so to say, and should be used in a way such as :

"The gist of my morning is that I got ready. In detail, I brushed my teeth, I combed my hair, and I ate breakfast."

Person 1 agreed with Person 2's definition of gist, but said that their sentence is capturing the same idea.

So who is right, and is there a more definitive way to describe why one is right versus the other?

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I can imagine someone saying, "I'm going to brush my teeth and stuff," where stuff is a catch-all meaning, "and [do] other related tasks." That use of stuff may be rather informal, but it's well-understood, at least in the U.S. I can't recall ever seeing gist used in that way, though; it sounds highly irregular and out-of-place to me. That's the gist of why I'd side with Person 2. –  J.R. Aug 13 '13 at 16:01
It seems that everyone is hung up on "gist" referring to a conversation, written article, etc., but phrased like this, it could work for your purpose: "When I got up this morning, I peed, brushed my teeth, shaved, put on deodorant . . . you get the gist." The meaning is, of course, that your listener is expected to understand that your naming all the normal morning rituals. For that usage, "etc." can replace "you get the gist". –  Kristina Lopez Aug 13 '13 at 17:00
This is a great point @KristinaLopez. Maybe that's what was meant to be said somewhere along the line. +1 –  NETscape Aug 13 '13 at 18:00

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In the statement recorded for Person 1, "gist" can be either a noun used as an object of "brush", or an intransitive verb (a verb without an object).

Can you brush a "gist"? It might be instructive to replace it with its synonym, "essence":

"I am going to brush my teeth and essence."

Can you brush your essence? Maybe. Although this doesn't appear to be what Person 1 intended in the sentence.

As the commenter points out, other than Wiktionary, no dictionary lists "gist" as a verb, so that usage can be ignored -- but if this were the intended use of "gist" in Person 1's sentence the sentence would be incomplete, since there would be no object for "gist", which would not be an intransitive verb (i.e. it would requires an object). Since this usage is not supported, it is clearly incorrect.

Person 2's use of gist does not actually conform to its meaning. "gist" is not a summary of concrete actions; it is a summary of ideas.

Check out the complete definition in Webster Online.

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I would upvote this answer if it weren't for the the fact that reputable dictionaries online (M-W, Macmillan, Oxford, American Heritage) don't list a verb form of gist. –  Gnawme Aug 13 '13 at 16:00
Yes, @Gnawme, I wondered about that too, and upon further consideration modified my answer. I first thought it was some obscure usage of "gist", but apparently someone on Wiktionary got creative. –  Cyberherbalist Aug 13 '13 at 16:23
"most vital part of some idea or experience." Don't you experience the events of brushing your teeth, combing your hair, and eating breakfast? –  NETscape Aug 13 '13 at 16:41
klut: it's the way you've used the word that makes it incorrect. See the suggestion left by @kristina in her comment for one acceptable usage. We don't say, "I'm going to gist." However, this would also be acceptable: "Did you have an eventful morning?" "No, not really; I brushed my teeth, combed my hair - that was the gist of it." –  J.R. Aug 13 '13 at 17:47

I would say that neither of you is correct.
Dictionary definitions:

gist noun 1
the general meaning or main point of something said or written.

gist noun 2
the substance or general meaning of a speech or text : it was hard to get the gist of Pedro’s talk

to Person 1: You can't do gist
to Person 2: You don't normally use gist when referring to something you've done: as the definitions say, it normally refers to the 'meat' "of something said or written".

As the two definitions taken together suggest, gist is normally used in the context of a speech, talk, or written article. You might talk about the gist of an argument (in the sense of a proposal or reasoning); the gist of an explanation; the gist of a talk given by someone* the gist of a letter you've received; the gist of a discussion; etc..

But you would not normally use it in the context of summarising 'actions'.

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but something you've said or something you've written is something that was done... So although not used in its "normal" ways, I think it is still can be considered as valid. –  NETscape Aug 13 '13 at 15:35
"something ... written is something that was done". Not necessarily, as the other definition shows, it's more talking about a speech/talk/written article. You might talk about the gist of an argument (in the sense of a proposal or reasoning); gist of an explanation; gist of a talk; gist of a letter you've received; gist of a discussion; but I don't think I've ever heard it in the context of 'actions'. –  TrevorD Aug 13 '13 at 15:42
"gist" as a noun could be used as an object in a sentence, but can one brush a gist? "gist" as a verb requires an object, which is not present in the sentence (see my answer). –  Cyberherbalist Aug 13 '13 at 15:45

"gist" means the main point or main part of something. A common synonym is "essence". One would talk about the gist of a conversation or a lecture or a document. You didn't brush the "main point" of your teeth.

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When properly using "gist", it should immediately be followed by "of X" (where X is either "it" or some other noun). Sometimes that is not done, but I can't think offhand of an instance where there isn't at least an implied "of it" following "gist".

Given this, the first usage is clearly flat out wrong, while the second is passable.

The problem with the second is one of sublety of meaning. "Gist" is typically used to embody the underlying concept behind something another person is saying or doing. Unless someone else planned your morning out for you ahead of time as sort of an elaborate way to get a point across to you, then your morning does not have a "gist".

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