GENTLE (through the Fr. gentil, from Lat. gentilis, belonging to the same gens, or family), properly an epithet of one born of a "good family"; the Latin generosus, "well born" (see Gentleman), contrasted with "noble" on the one side and "simple" on the other. The word followed the wider application of the word "gentleman"; implying the manners, character and breeding proper to one to whom that name could be applied, courteous, polite; hence, with no reference to its original meaning, free from violence or roughness, mild, soft, kind or tender. With a physical meaning of soft to the touch, the word is used substantively of the maggot of the bluebottle fly, used as a bait by fishermen. At the end of the 16th century the French gentil was again adapted into English in the form "gentile," later changed to "genteel." The word was common in the 17th and 18th centuries as applied to behaviour, manner of living, dress, etc., suitable or proper to persons living in a position in society above the ordinary, hence polite, elegant. From the early part of the 19th century it has also been used in an ironical sense, and applied chiefly to those who pay an excessive and absurd importance to the outward marks of respectability as evidence of being in a higher rank in society than that to which they properly belong.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)