gentle

\ \ [13] Expressions like ‘of gentle birth’, and related forms such as gentility [14] and gentleman [13] point up the original link between gentle and ‘family, stock, birth’. The word comes via Old French gentil from Latin gentīlis, a derivative of gēnsfamily, stock’, which in turn goes back to the Indo-European base *gen- ‘produce’ (source of English gene, generate, genitive, etc). To begin with it meant ‘of the same family’, but by post-classical times it had shifted to ‘of good family’, the sense in which English originally acquired it. Like the closely related generous, it then moved on semantically from ‘well-born’ to ‘having a noble character, generous, courteous’, but interestingly this sense has virtually died out in English (except in such fixed phrases as gentle knight and gentle reader), having been replaced since the 16th century by ‘mild, tender’.
\ \ French gentil was reborrowed into English in the 16th century as genteel, in which again connotations of good breeding figure highly.
\ \ Attempts at a French accent resulted ultimately in jaunty [17], which originally meant ‘wellbred’ or ‘elegant’.
\ \ The other English descendant of Latin gentīlis is the directly borrowed gentile [14], whose application to ‘non-Jewish people’ comes from its use in the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible.
\ \ Cf.GENERAL

Word origins - 2ed. . 2005.

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  • Gentle — Gen tle, a. [Compar. {Gentler}; superl. {Gentlest}.] [OE. gentil, F. gentil noble, pretty, graceful, fr. L. gentilis of the same clan or race, fr. gens, gentis, tribe, clan, race, orig. that which belongs together by birth, fr. the root of genere …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • gentle — [jent′ l] adj. gentler, gentlest [ME gentil < OFr, of noble birth < L gentilis, of the same gens (in LL, of a good family) < gens: see GENS] 1. belonging to the upper classes or polite society 2. like or suitable to polite society;… …   English World dictionary

  • gentle — The phrase the gentle art, which was used with clever irony by the American painter James McNeill Whistler in his title The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (1890), had already become a cliché by the time Fowler wrote (1926). As well as being used… …   Modern English usage

  • gentle — [adj1] having a mild or kind nature affable, agreeable, amiable, benign, biddable, bland, compassionate, considerate, cool*, cultivated, disciplined, docile, domesticated, dovelike*, easy, genial, humane, kindly, laid back*, lenient, manageable,… …   New thesaurus

  • Gentle — Gent le, v. t. 1. To make genteel; to raise from the vulgar; to ennoble. [Obs.] Shak. [1913 Webster] 2. To make smooth, cozy, or agreeable. [R. or Poet.] [1913 Webster] To gentle life s descent, We shut our eyes, and think it is a plain. Young.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Gentle — may refer to: *Gentleness *Gentleman *Gentle (comics) …   Wikipedia

  • Gentle — Gen tle, n. 1. One well born; a gentleman. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] Gentles, methinks you frown. Shak. [1913 Webster] 2. A trained falcon. See {Falcon gentil}. [1913 Webster] 3. (Zo[ o]l.) A dipterous larva used as fish bait. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • gentle — index harmless, lenient, nonmilitant, peaceable, placid Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • gentle — (adj.) early 13c., well born, from O.Fr. gentil high born, noble, of good family (11c., in Modern French nice, graceful, pleasing; fine pretty ), from L. gentilis of the same family or clan, from gens (gen. gentis) race, clan, from root of… …   Etymology dictionary

  • gentle — *soft, mild, smooth, lenient, bland, balmy Analogous words: *moderate, temperate: *pleasant, agreeable, grateful, pleasing, welcome: *calm, tranquil, serene, placid, peaceful, halcyon Antonyms: rough, harsh Contrasted words: vehement, intense,… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • gentle — ► ADJECTIVE (gentler, gentlest) 1) mild or kind; not rough or violent. 2) not harsh or severe. 3) archaic noble or courteous. DERIVATIVES gentleness noun gently adverb …   English terms dictionary

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