Saturday, March 30, 2013


Before the Englishmen used the term "Hindoo", they used the term "Gentoo", and I've always wondered where it came from.  The following finally got me actually looking to find out.
The Word Gentoo has been, and is still, equally mistaken to signify, in the proper sense of the Term, the Professors of the Braminical Religion, whereas Gent, or Gentoo, means Animal in general, and in its more confined Sense, Mankind; but is never, in the Shanscrit Dialect, nor even in the modern Jargon of Bengal, appropriated particularly to such as follow the Doctrines of Brihma.   The four great Tribes have each their own separate Appellation; but they have no common or collective Term that comprehends the whole Nation under the Idea affixed by Europeans to the Word Gentoo.  Possibly the Portuguese on their first Arrival in India, hearing the Word frequently in the Mouths of the Natives as applied to Mankind in general, might adopt it for the domestic Appellation of the Indians themselves; perhaps also their Bigotry might force from the Word Gentoo a fanciful Allusion to Gentile, a Pagan.  —from the preface of A Code of Gentoo Laws, or Ordinations of the Pundits, From a Persian Translation, made from the Original, written in the Shanscrit Language, 1776,Nathaniel Brassey Halbed.
The Oxford Hindi-English dictionary:
जंतु  jantu [from Sanskrit], m., an animal; a creature; an insect, &c.

Jantu is an every-day word in Hindi, but never previously had I associated with "Gentoo".

Apte's Sanskrit-English dictionary:
जंतु:  {jantuh}
1. A creature, a living being, man;
2. The (individual) soul.
3. An animal of the lowest organization

It turns out that (as far as I can tell with the help of relatives and friends) that only Sanskrit has retained the meaning of "man", Marathi, Konkani, Malayalam all have the word in the sense of "creature" or lowly organism.

 Wiki has some compelling references that show that Gentoo has its roots in the Portuguese gentio, or gentile.  This is by proven by looking at Portuguese literature from the 16th century (e.g., Duarte Barbosa (1480-1521)).  So it appears that Halbed had it backwards; Gentoo originated in gentio, and Halbed forced a fanciful allusion to jantu.