Tag Archives: Etymology

Gentilnesse: Middle English Word of the Day

g hacekenti macron brevelnes(se (n.) Also gentelnasseientilnesse.

From Old French. gentillesse

Gentilnesse, or Gentilnes seem to be the most common spellings.

This is the firs of a regular series of posts about the meaning behind Middle English words.

What is gentleness? Is it being kind to people? Does it mean talking quietly to them and not upsetting them.

The word didn’t really take on that meaning until about the 17th century. In the time of Chaucer the word mean that one acted in a way that was appropriate for someone of noble or gentle birth. I.e. you acted like a gentleman. That might mean one acted in a temperate and kind way, but that was the behaviour expected of a noble person or gentle birth and thus the meaning.

Here’s a good example from Chaucer’s Parsons Tale (I. 585):

“He seith hit cometh him of gentilnes of his auncetres.”

Full meanings from the entry at the University of Michigan Middle English Compendium are:

1. (a) Nobility of rank or birth; (b) of animals or birds: excellence of breed or kind; (c) of fruit: excellence; of a bird: beauty, elegance.

2. (a) Nobility of character or manners; generosity, kindness, graciousness, etc.; also, good breeding; (b) as a title of address: your ~; (c) a kind or gracious act; don ~ to, to be kind or generous to (sb.).

3. People of rank, gentry; also, a person of noble rank.

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