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Journal of jhi (318)

Tuesday November 12, 2002
07:55 PM

weird connotations

[ #8917 ]

While reading Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, I came across a currently fashionable word, a name of a currently 'hip and cool' Linux distribution, and I have to hazard a guess that whoever came up with the name wasn't South African. Or if he was, I really have to wonder... Well, here's the word:

Gentoo. Gentoo, for prostitute, is a South African word that may come from a disparaging Hindi term for a Hindu who speaks Teluga rather than Hindi. But it possibly derives from the name of the Gentoo, a ship transporting female servants to Africa that was wrecked on the South African coast. The women were saved but lost all their belongings and were forced to work as prostitutes in gentoo houses to support themselves. Gentoo, first recorded in 1638, also means a heathen.

Some further Googling brings up also more references.

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  • Telugu is the principal language of the Eastern part of the Indian Peninsula from Madras to Bengal, and it is spoken by about 20 millions people. The language is called Telugu or Tenugu. Formerly it was often called Gentoo by the Europeans. Gentoo is a corruption of the Portuguese gentio, a heathen, and was originally applied to all Hindus as opposed to the Moros or moors, i.e. the Muhammadans. Does this mean that Gentooists have to be converted to the cult of the One True GNU and His Prophet ? (From Lingui [engr.mun.ca]
    • On the other hand I think the Gentoo people should have made a little bit more research before settling on their name... I bet South African linuxists are having lots of fun.