gentle


gentle
   Formerly a vocative in its own right, especially in the plural when it was used to address a group of nobles or gentlemen and gentlewomen. Examples of such usage occur in, e.g., The Merry Wives of Windsor (3:ii) and Henry the Fifth (l:i). The main use of gentle by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, however, was as a vocative element, meaning either ‘of good birth, noble’, or ‘mild, tender, kind, of a nature to be expected of one who was well-born’. Throughout the Shakespeare plays there are vocative expressions which contain ‘gentle’ as an element. A few examples will suffice to show the range, with individual plays not being mentioned since most of the terms occur passim: gentle + first name, gentle friend, gentle mistress, gentle my lord, gentle lover, gentle sweet, gentle wife, gentle lady, gentle master, gentle sir, gentle madam, gentle husband, gentle maiden, gentle cousin, etc. There is even an instance, in Henry the Fourth Part Two (3:ii), of ‘gentle gentlemen’ used vocatively. The only modern survivals of such usage are ‘gentleman’, and to a far lesser extent, ‘gentlewoman’. ‘Gentle reader’, addressed to the reader of a novel by an author, continued in late use, but that has now gone. One suspects that the value of the word, in vocative use at least, was debased by overuse. What had originally been a high compliment about one’s family background was to become devalued to the point where ‘genteel’, a development from ‘gentle’, came to have a pejorative meaning, suggesting artificially good manners as displayed by social climbers.

A dictionary of epithets and terms of address . . 2015.

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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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