Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nicknaming Hair Colors - Ginger

When I heard my son calling his friend "Ginger" the other day, I had to ask why. I was surprised to hear that it is a nickname for redheads (I was surprised because my mom is a redhead and in my 40 plus years I have never heard of redheads being called "Ginger"). When I probed further, I was told that it came from an episode of South Park with a group of redheaded children. Now it was starting to make sense to me. I had never heard the term because I do not watch South Park. But then I started to think more about the word "ginger" and about redheads, and I remembered Gilligan's Island. The character Ginger on Gilligan's Island was a redhead so maybe the redhead/ginger connection goes back further than I first thought.

According to the pertinent entries for the ginger in the Oxford English Dictionary (shown below) , the redhead/ginger connection dates as far back as 1785.

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.].

But why ginger for a red-haired? me ginger is white.

I can't answer that question, but I did find the following dialogue on Explain the Ginger.

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

On the other hand, maybe the term ginger is used to refer to a redheads because the flower of the ginger plant is red.

P.S. Apparently in Australia the nickname for a redhead is "bluey" because of the Australians' appreciation of irony. Though I did read somewhere (I can not remember for the life of me where), that it could also have to do with vegetable colors, specifically the Australian blue squash which has teal-gray skin encasing bright orange flesh.


4ndyman said...

This makes me wonder about the root of the word "gingerly." My collegiate dictionary points to a link to ginger, but it doesn't give much information about what that link is. What part of ginger (either the plant or the redheads) leads to "delicately"?

Anonymous said...

As a non-native English speaker, I tend to find the "strawberry" hair colour quite puzzling too - definitely not red but blonde!


Laura Payne said...


Here is the etymology according to the OED -

[f. *ginger (of obscure origin) + -LY2; the adj. appears a few years later than the adv., and may possibly be derived from it.
It seems conceivable that ginger-may represent an adoption of OF. gensor (gentchur, gentior, genzor, etc.), properly the comparative of gent, GENT a., but used also as a positive, ‘pretty, delicate’. The form presents no difficulty, as the word would naturally be assimilated to GINGER n. The sense of the OF. word agrees closely with that of gingerly in the earliest examples both as adj. and as adv., though the Eng. word was almost entirely confined to one specific application (perh. as a techical term in dancing), which easily developed into a sense very remote from that of the suggested etymon.
It does not appear that any other plausible conjecture has yet been offered. The usual comparison of Sw. dial. gingla, gängla, to totter, is inadmissible, both on account of the sound (d) instead of (g) in both syllables of the Eng. word, and for other reasons; and derivation from GINGER n. would not account for the 16th c. sense.]

Laura Payne said...


To me a strawberry blonde is a blonde with reddish highlights.

arnie said...

"Ginger" is a common nickname here in the UK for redheads, as well as being used as an adjective ("he had ginger hair").

It's usually applied to hair that is a sort of light orange colour. Many Scots have hair we'd describe as ginger; although the red hair of Groundskeeper Willie in The Simpsons is rather redder than it would be in reality.

Virtual Linguist said...

As Arnie said, Ginger is a common nickname here in the UK. When I was at school there was at least one person we called Ginger in every class, and in the very popular (in the UK) Just William books by Richmal Crompton, there is a Ginger in William's gang. Prince Harry's nickname (he is the grandson of the Queen, and third in line to the throne) is said to be 'Ginge'.

4ndyman: Gingerly has nothing to do with the plant ginger. As the extract from the OED above says, it probably comes from 'gent', from the Latin for 'born' (thus related to congenital, progenitor etc). This eventually came to mean well-born, or noble, and gingerly was first used to describe a walk or a dancing step and meant 'dainty' -- presumably nobles were assumed to have dainty, elegant walks.

The Ridger, FCD said...

To me, strawberry is always "strawberry blonde" - I don't think I've ever heard it alone.

The Doctor (Dr Who)'s latest incarnations have wished they were gingers...

shannonhamilton said...

This was very interesting thanks to all who provided information this was a great read and im 16 :-) I never read

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...