An recent exchange on Facebook (about Gertrude Stein) led to musings on the drug noun hash, which at least historically is a shortening of hashish. One participant noted that these days you don’t see a lot of mentions of hashish, and I remarked that for some people hash was usable as another synonym (among many) for marijuana / cannabis, similar to pot. I was comfortable with that, but not everyone was.

Strict definition, from Wikipedia:

Hashish, often known as “hash”, is a cannabis product composed of compressed or purified preparations of stalked resin glands, called trichomes. It contains the same active ingredients — such as THC and other cannabinoids — but in higher concentrations than unsifted buds or leaves. … Hashish may be solid or resinous depending on the preparation

So ordinary pot is cannabis leaves or buds in raw form, while hashish is processed to a solid or resin.

When you look at OED2, you see something more complex. The first cite for hashish is from 1959 (surprisingly late, to my mind, but this will surely be antedated in OED3; Green’s Dictionary of Slang gets drug hash back to 1943). Then we get to a 1972 cite and a draft addition of February 2005:

1972   P. Dickinson Lizard in Cup x. 157   ‘It’s morphine she’s been on?’ said Pibble. But Tony shook her head. ‘Just grass. Hash.’ [not entirely clear, but suggestive]

draft addition February 2005: hash brownie   n.  [punningly after hash browns n. at hash n.1 Compounds 2] slang (orig. U.S.) a brownie or other cake containing cannabis, eaten as an intoxicant. [clearer; hash is merely cannabis, in one form or another]

And this brings us back to Gertrude Stein. And Alice B. Toklas. Toklas is famous for including a hash (or hashish) brownie recipe in her cookbook. That would be from Bryon Gysin.

On Gysin (from Wikipedia):

Brion Gysin (19 January 1916 – 13 July 1986) was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire

.On the brownies, from the same source:

As a joke, Gysin contributed a recipe for marijuana fudge to a cookbook by Alice B. Toklas; it was unintentionally included for publication, becoming famous under the name Alice B. Toklas brownies

Note: marijuana fudge, not hashish fudge. It’s reported to be tasty.

5 Responses to “hash”

  1. fundlaw Says:

    To clarify, it’s “hash,” in the hashish meaning, that the OED dates back only to 1959. “Hashish” itself is a much older word. (I know that Arnold knows this, but other readers may not.)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      No question that it’s a much older word. The question is when it appeared *in English*. Even so, 1959 is undoubtedly too late.

      • fundlaw Says:

        Even if you don’t like the early uses by travelers, Emerson’s example from 1856 seems pretty relevant, and there are several additional 19th century examples in the OED. The 1959 citation is from the entry for “hash.”

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    Odd personal note: I had never heard of Brion Gysin before today, and now, within the space of an hour or two, I see his name twice (the other place being Peter Schjeldal’s piece in The New Yorker about William S. Burroughs).

  3. Mar Rojo Says:


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