Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Genteel

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is genteel. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Genteel means “elegant or graceful in manner, appearance, or shape.” It can also mean “marked by false delicacy, prudery, or affectation,” or be used as a somewhat old-fashioned synonym of aristocratic.

// His husband always argues his opinions with the most genteel politeness.

// They conspicuously switched to a genteel accent whenever in professional settings.

// She was born into a genteel family in the Hamptons.

GENTEEL in Context

“On a technical level, [Roger] Federer reconciled the power of the modern game with the finesse of the wooden-racket era, creating an elegant style that was excitingly contemporary yet still felt like a loving homage to the sport’s past. … That Federer’s aesthetically inventive style bolstered his reputation is clear from the reams of essays and books that laud him as the Platonic ideal of a genteel racket-sport champion.” — Kevin Craft, The Atlantic, 15 Sep. 2022

Did You Know?

The word genteel has some familiar English relatives, including gentle, gentrify, and gentility. All come from the Latin noun gens, used to refer to a group of related people. That word’s plural, gentes, was used in Roman times to classify the people of the world, particularly non-Romans. Similarly, the English gentile refers to people who are not Jewish, or who don’t follow other specific religions. Many non-English words come from gens as well, including the Spanish gente, meaning “people.” To say gens has made its mark would be putting it gently.

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