early 13c., gentile, gentle "well-born, of noble rank or family," from Old French gentil/jentil "high-born, worthy, noble, of good family; courageous, valiant; fine, good, fair" (11c., in Modern French "nice, graceful, pleasing; fine, pretty") and directly from Latin gentilis "of the same family or clan," in Medieval Latin "of noble or good birth," from gens (genitive gentis) "race, clan," from root of gignere "beget," from PIE root *gene- "to give birth, beget," from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget," with derivatives referring to procreation and familial and tribal groups.
Sense evolved in English and French to "having the character or manners of one of noble rank or birth," varying according to how those were defined. From mid-13c. in English as "gracious, kind" (now obsolete), manners prescribed for Christian or chivalrous nobility. From late 13c. as "courteous, polite, well-bred, charming;" c. 1300 as "graceful, beautiful." Meaning "mild, tender; easy; not harsh" (of animals, things, persons) is from 1550s. Older sense remains in gentleman, and compare gentile (adj.), an alternative form which tends to keep the Biblical senses of the Latin word (though gentle in Middle English sometimes meant "pagan, heathen"), and genteel, which is the same word borrowed again from French. From 1823 as "pertaining to the fairies."
"extremely cautiously" (of movements, etc.), c. 1600; earlier "elegantly, daintily" (1510s), of unknown origin. Perhaps [OED] from Old French gensor, comparative of gent "dainty, delicate," from Latin gentius "(well)-born" (see gentle).
"gossip, busybody," 1923, from Yente Telebende, comic strip gossip in 1920s-30s writing of Yiddish newspaper humorist B. Kovner (pen-name of Jacob Adler) in the "Jewish Daily Forward." It was a common Yiddish fem. proper name, altered from Yentl and said to be ultimately from Italian gentile "kind, gentle," earlier "noble, high-born" (see gentle).
mid-14c., "nobility of birth, gentle birth," from Old French gentilité (14c.), from Latin gentilitatem (nominative gentilitas) "relationship in the same family or clan," from gentilis "of the same family or clan" (see gentle; also compare gentry). From 1640s as "social superiority." Meaning "state of being gentile" is rare.
also janty, jantee, etc., 1660s, "elegant, stylish," an imperfect or jocular attempt to render into English the contemporary pronunciation of French gentil "nice, pleasing," in Old French "noble" (see gentle). Meaning "easy and sprightly in manner" first attested 1670s. The same French word otherwise was Englished as genteel. Related: Jauntily; jauntiness.
"of a kind disposition; gracious; kind; benignant; favorable," early 14c., from Old French benigne "kind, benign, merciful, gracious" (12c., Modern French bénin, fem. bénigne), from Latin benignus "kindly, kindhearted, friendly, generous," literally "well born," from bene "well" (see bene-) + gignere "to bear, beget," from genus "birth" (from PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget"). For similar sense evolution, compare gentle, kind (adj.), generous. Related: Benignly.
1590s, "fashionably elegant; suitable to polite society, characteristic of a lady or gentleman; decorous in manners or behavior," from French gentil "stylish, fashionable, elegant; nice, graceful, pleasing," from Old French gentil "high-born, noble" (11c.); a reborrowing (with evolved senses) of the French word that had early come into English as gentle (q.v.), with French pronunciation and stress preserved to emphasize the distinction. The Latin source of the French word is the ancestor of English gentile, but the main modern meaning of that word is from a later Scriptural sense in Latin. See also jaunty. OED 2nd ed. reports genteel "is now used, except by the ignorant, only in mockery" (a development it dates from the 1840s).