My morning name for 7/26: the name of a species of penguin:

(#1) From NOAD: noun gentoo (also gentoo penguin): a tall penguin with a white triangular patch above the eye, breeding on subantarctic islands. Pygoscelis papua, family Spheniscidae.

But the name, the name: where does it come from? It sounds a bit like gentile, but then seat-of-the-pants etymologizing is almost always way off the mark, however entertaining the stories might be. But this one might possiby be so, although that’s far from a sure thing; NOAD‘s note:

ORIGIN mid 19th century: perhaps from Anglo-Indian Gentoo ‘a Hindu’, from Portuguese gentio ‘gentile’.

The connection between Portuguese gentio ‘gentile’ (< Latin gentilis ‘of a family or nation, of the same clan’) and Anglo-Indian Gentoo ‘a Hindu’ is firm, however remarkable it might seem to you. What is still unclear is how to get from Hindus to penguins, so other sources for gentoo have been proposed, but, apparently, none with solid evidence.

Many semantic intricacies to come. I’ll start with English gentile. From NOAD:

adj. gentile: 1 [a] (Gentile [AZ: my own usage has lowercase]) not Jewish: Christianity spread from Jewish into Gentile cultures. [b] (of a person) not belonging to one’s own religious community. [c] historical (in the Mormon church) non-Mormon. 2 chiefly Anthropology relating to or indicating a nation or clan, especially a gens. noun (Gentile [AZ: again, I’m inclined to lowercase]) a person who is not Jewish. ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin gentilis ‘of a family or nation, of the same clan’ (used in the Vulgate to refer to non-Jews), from gensgent- ‘family, race’, from the root of gignere ‘beget’.

Go back to the Vulgate use. It looks like the usage here takes the point of view of the Jews; they’re the taken-for-granted background; any other groups are defined  in opposition to the Jews, as a distinguished family, nation, or clan, hence gentiles. So, gentile comes to refer not just to groups, but to out-groups: Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, afterwards Christians and Muslims, among others, in opposition to Jews. And then, by extension to outsiders with respect to some other religious communities (as with the Mormon usage).

Into South Asian geosocial vocabulary. The crucial vocabulary item, again about in-groups and out-groups, from OED2 (unrevised, from quite sometime ago):

Gentoo (obsolete) A non-Muslim inhabitant of Hindustan; a Hindu; in South India [dominated by Dravidian, rather than Indo-European, languages], one speaking Telugu. Etymology: Anglo-Indian < Portuguese gentio gentile adj. and n.

I wish I knew more about the cultural history here, but the usage appears to be framed from a Muslim point of view, so that Hindus are the gentiles (and perhaps, in the South Indian case, framed from a Tamil point of view, so that Telugu speakers are the gentiles).

Places. And now we’re into a huge assortment of partially overlapping proper names referring to various parts of the region under discussion here. Starting with Hindustan (just above).

The very brief story from NOAD:

noun Hindustan: the Indian subcontinent in general, more specifically that part of India north of the Deccan, especially the plains of the Ganges and Jumna Rivers.

More detail in Wikipedia:

Hindustan, along with its shortened form Hind, are the Persian names for India, broadly the Indian subcontinent, which later became used by its inhabitants in Hindi–Urdu. After the Partition of India [into India and Pakistan, the latter afterwards divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh], it continues to be used as a historic name for the Republic of India.

A secondary meaning of Hindustan is as a geographic term for the Indo-Gangetic Plain in northern India.

Putting aside the narrower geographical sense for the moment, we have a term that is sometimes used to refer to a geographical area, sometimes to a culture zone, sometimes to political entities. This isn’t unusual, but it is messy.

So: the geographical term the Indian subcontinent. From Wikipedia:

The Indian subcontinent, or simply the subcontinent, is a southern region and peninsula of Asia, mostly situated on the Indian Plate and projecting southwards into the Indian Ocean from the Himalayas. Geologically, the Indian subcontinent is related to the land mass that rifted from Gondwana and merged with the Eurasian Plate nearly 55 million years ago. Geographically, it is the peninsular region in south-central Asia delineated by the Himalayas in the north, the Hindu Kush in the west, and the Arakanese in the east. Politically, the Indian subcontinent includes all or part of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The term “Indian subcontinent” is used interchangeably with the term “South Asia”.

Well, not exactly. I’m familiar with South Asia as a culture zone, primarily defined by the political entities within it. From NOAD:

(#2) From the World Regional Geography site on South Asia

noun South Asia: the southern part of Asia, in particular India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

An then the narrower, entirely geographical, sense of Hindustan: the Indus-Gangetic Plain. From Wikipedia:

The Indo-Gangetic Plain, also known as the Indus-Ganga Plain and the North Indian River Plain, is a 630-million-acre (2.5-million km2) fertile plain encompassing northern regions of the Indian subcontinent, including most of northern and eastern India, the eastern parts of Pakistan, virtually all of Bangladesh and southern plains of Nepal. The region is named after the Indus and the Ganges rivers [the latter river system including the Brahmaputra river] and encompasses a number of large urban areas. The plain is bound on the north by the Himalayas, which feed its numerous rivers and are the source of the fertile alluvium deposited across the region by the two river systems.

(The rivers are noted in the map in #2.)


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