Gentoos—"Whores" of Distinction
In South Africa, the Cape Afrikaans term gentoo is a harsh, disparaging term for a prostitute. It's like "whore" in English, but with more bite and venom.
At the dockside nightclubs of Cape Town, where the prostitutes entertain foreign sailors, the ladies call themselves "club girls". If they use the term gentoo, it is usually to attack the character of a rival.
But the other night, one of the ladies offered a novel interpretation of the word. While chatting up a Filipino seamen, she told him that he "should never confuse us gentoos with prostitutes who walk the streets and work in brothels." She said, "we're sea-ladies. We go with seamen. But the prostitutes, they go with locals."
Then she added, "the main difference is that we gentoos clean ourselves. We're clean."
The Filipino said he'd never heard the word "gentoo" before. "Where does it come from?" he asked.
She said, "You see, the Gentoo was a ship that came to Cape Town over a hundred years ago with a bunch of prostitutes. They ended up working the dockside with the sailors. So the locals took the word to mean 'ladies who go with seamen.' So you see, that's us. We sea-ladies are gentoos".
(This explanation actually approximates historical accounts).
As I listened to the conversation, it struck me that, perhaps it was just a matter of time before someone claimed the term "gentoo" with pride. After all, many black American youth call themselves "niggas"; some macho gay men call themselves "fags"; some co-eds of the Girls Gone Wild variety call themselves "sluts" or "bitches"; and a mixed-race ethnic group in Namibia even calls themselves "Bastards." Though all were initially terms of denigration, each group appropriated them—inverting their power—and now use them with pride.
Perhaps a Gentoo Pride campaign is in the offing. We'll see.