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Explain the ginger!
February 8, 2008 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Etymology of "ginger" to mean redhead?

I think it's chiefly a UK kind of slang. I'm American, but I knew what they were talking about as soon as I heard it.

Ginger is from the tropics (and most redheads are Irish), it's not red, am I missing something?
posted by Pocahontas to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think ginger is referring to the color - mostly strawberry blond and reddish. Wikipedia - with many references to ginger. From BBC article: As many as 10% of Scots and Irish people have ginger or strawberry blond hair, while it is thought that up to 35% carry a recessive "ginger gene".
posted by Sassyfras at 3:37 PM on February 8, 2008


Ginger is a name for a reddish brown color.

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ginger
posted by gjc at 3:38 PM on February 8, 2008



It's because ginger, or ginger-flavoured cakes etc. are (sort of) the same colour as (the lighter shades of) red hair. That's all.

The OED says:

4. dial. and slang. a. A light sandy colour, resembling that of ginger.

1865 DICKENS Mut. Fr. I. ii, Mature young gentleman; with..too much ginger in his whiskers. 1889 N.W. Linc. Gloss. (ed. 2), Ginger, a light red or yellow colour, applied to the hair.

b. A cock with reddish plumage; also, a red-haired or sandy-haired person.

1785 GROSE Dict. Vulg. Tongue s.v. Ginger-pated, Red cocks are called gingers. 1797 Sporting Mag. IX. 338 In cocking, I suppose you will not find a better breed of gingers. 1857 H. AINSWORTH Spendthrift xvi. 109 Examining the cocks, and betting with each other..this backing a grey, that a ginger. 1885 in Eng. Illustr. Mag. June 605 There is..‘Ginger’, the red-haired, who [etc.].

posted by buxtonbluecat at 3:41 PM on February 8, 2008


OED shows it going back to 1525:

1552 HULOET, *Gynger coloure, after a whyte russet, melinus.


but more directly, references it to the color of cocks (shush)

b. A cock with reddish plumage; also, a red-haired or sandy-haired person.
1785 GROSE Dict. Vulg. Tongue s.v. Ginger-pated, Red cocks are called gingers. 1797 Sporting Mag. IX. 338 In cocking, I suppose you will not find a better breed of gingers. 1857 H. AINSWORTH Spendthrift xvi. 109 Examining the cocks, and betting with each other..this backing a grey, that a ginger. 1885 in Eng. Illustr. Mag. June 605 There is..‘Ginger’, the red-haired, who [etc.].


And certainly for human hair by 1865:

1865 DICKENS Mut. Fr. I. ii, Mature young gentleman; with..too much ginger in his whiskers. 1889 N.W. Linc. Gloss. (ed. 2), Ginger, a light red or yellow colour, applied to the hair.

posted by Rumple at 3:43 PM on February 8, 2008


Urban Dictionary
1. A human, characterized by pale skin, freckles and bright red hair.

2. People with ginger hair (of whatever shade) are said to be descended from the same gene pool of the Vikings.

3. A ginger is, among other things, a person with red hair, freckles and pale skin. Some darker skinned or non-ginger haired persons feel compelled to denegrate gingers out of jealousy because a ginger's look is unique.
Men typically love ginger women.
Wikipedia
Red hair (also referred to as auburn, ginger or titian)....In modern-day UK, despite being one of the places with the highest populations of redheads, the words "ginger" or "ginga" are derogatorily used to describe red-headed people, with terms such as "gingerphobia" (fear of redheads) or "gingerism" (prejudice against redheads) used by the media. Redheads are also sometimes referred to disparagingly as "carrot tops" and "carrot heads". "Gingerism" has been compared to racism, although this is widely disputed and bodies such as the UK Commission for Racial Equality do not monitor cases of discrimination and hate crimes against redheads. A UK woman recently won an award from a tribunal after being sexually harassed and receiving abuse because of her red hair; a family in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, was forced to move twice after being targeted for abuse and hate crime on account of their red hair; and in 2003, a 20 year old was stabbed in the back for "being ginger."
Gingerphobia: Carrot-tops See Red

Is Gingerism as Bad as Racism?

Ginger Hair Sparks Stabbing.
posted by ericb at 3:44 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Friends of mine recently adopted a baby - and the mom (who is from Scotland) said, I just hope he isn't a ginger baby!

Guess what? Yup, he's a ginger baby!
posted by Sassyfras at 3:46 PM on February 8, 2008


ginger flowers are red
posted by hazel at 4:28 PM on February 8, 2008


Not limited to the U.K. South Park did an entire episode about this: Ginger Kids.

"We've all seen them. On the playground. At the store. Walking down the street. They creep us out and make us feel sick to our stomachs. I'm talking, of course, about ginger kids. Like vampires, the ginger gene is a curse. And unless we work to rid the earth of that curse, the gingers could envelop our lives in blackness for all time. It is time that we all admit to ourselves that gingers are vile and disgusting." -- Cartman
posted by jewishbuddha at 4:42 PM on February 8, 2008


When a close friend of mine was adopted, the placement facility asked if the family would take a baby with ginger hair. (He has ginger hair.) That was over 30 years ago in Canada.
posted by acoutu at 4:45 PM on February 8, 2008


I have red hair, actually strawberry blonde. Or at least it used to be, before it started turning white. So do my brother and my sister.

The first time I ever heard "ginger" used to refer to red hair was in an interview included on the second Harry Potter DVD with the twins who played Ron's older brothers. I certainly never ran into it while I was growing up in Portland OR in the 1950's or 1960's. Or in fact in the 1970's, or in the 1980's in Massachusetts, or in the 1990's in San Diego.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:52 PM on February 8, 2008


hazel, that's not actually the ginger plant that the spice comes from, Zingiber officianale. The word ginger comes from the Greek word for the spice, so I'm not sure that the red blooms of Alpinia (which is not a true ginger) would be the cause.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:19 PM on February 8, 2008


I started thinking that Turmeric root ( Curcuma rhizome) looks an awful lot like a ginger rhizome. However, turmeric is well known as a vegetable dye as well as a spice; it dyes a yellow to deep orange-red depending on the situation. So I poked around, and found this from the Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
(Great Britain, 1851)
"C(urcuma) amada, Mango Ginger... is called mango because the fresh root has the smell of a mango. It is used for the same purposes as ginger."

So although ginger itself is not particularly red or reddish, turmeric is redder, and makes a reddish orange dye. It seems that at some point in England it was sometimes called ginger.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:37 PM on February 8, 2008


oneirodynia, actually Curcuma amada (mango ginger) is different from turmeric (Curcuma longa. It's a variant of ginger with a distinct mango-like taste. It's actually very tasty made into a pickle. It's quite common in India.
posted by peacheater at 7:03 PM on February 8, 2008


Yes, but the point is that Curcumins look like ginger, and most if not all have orange/red dying properties, and some of them were known in England as "ginger" in spite of not necessarily being what we call ginger today. Curcuma are in the Zingerberaceae family. I'm not trying to say tumeric and mango ginger are the same thing.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:52 PM on February 8, 2008


ugh, why can't I properly finish a post today? So yes, my post above was doing the sloppy botanical doublespeak of referring to the entire family as tumeric, which was not clear. Sorry.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:56 PM on February 8, 2008


gilligan's island?
posted by brandz at 9:07 PM on February 8, 2008


The first time I ever heard "ginger" used to refer to red hair was in an interview included on the second Harry Potter DVD with the twins who played Ron's older brothers. I certainly never ran into it while I was growing up in Portland OR in the 1950's or 1960's. Or in fact in the 1970's, or in the 1980's in Massachusetts, or in the 1990's in San Diego.

I think the usage is distinctly British, wheras in the States people just say "redhead". But I was under the impression that ginger related to that vague grouping of folk whose hair isn't quite red, isn't quite blonde, and isn't quite brown, but rather a mixture of all three.
posted by zardoz at 12:45 AM on February 9, 2008


FWIW: I never in my life (41 yrs, American) heard the phrase "ginger" as a euphemism for "red-haired" until I saw the South Park episode a few months ago.
posted by davidmsc at 1:01 AM on February 9, 2008


No answers just a few thoughts.

Where I am, ginger and red are pretty much interchangeable concerning hair. So it can apply to any type of red. A red tinge could just as easily be described as 'a bit gingery' and so on.

Ginger cats?!!? (My Nana had a ginger cat and it was even called Ginger).

A 'ginger' horse is called a roan.

My brother has red hair and he shits me to tears.
Fast forward beyond 1999 a couple of years or so. I had a friend with red hair and after he left my younger brother said "I don't like him."
So I said "Why not?"
He screwed up his face a little, thinking.
Then wrinkled his nose and said "I don't know... I just don't like him."
I smiled "You just don't like him because he has red hair."
He thought for a moment and we shared a knowing smile "Yeah."

He was instinctively prejudiced against redheads and didn't even know it! In his defence he did have to suffer life on the bunk below and endure all that would have come with that. I had a sanctuary and a little refuge from it. But it only took being friends with a few more to recognise the pattern was the pattern and remain wary of them all. (Although only three come to mind, in my experience, redhead females aren't the same way as the males.)

(That guy was a fucking asshole by the way but I feel the red hair only exacerbated his issues rather than being the cause of them.)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 3:54 AM on February 9, 2008


Catherine Tate videos on 'gingers'

They're a recurring theme on her show.
posted by lukemeister at 8:09 AM on February 9, 2008


Growing up in the US, I'd heard/read the adjective "ginger" [pronounced like the spice] used for red hair.

It was only after moving to Britain that I heard the noun "ginger" [pronounced like "singer" with a hard initial G] used to mean "a red-haired person."

I think the prejudice against redheads in Britain may be a remnant of the former commonly-held prejudice against the Irish, but I could be wrong.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:57 PM on February 9, 2008


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