The word ginger was around in Old English for a while, taking on forms like gingifer, gingiber, giniure, and gingifra. By Middle English, the spellings of gingere and gingevere were most prominent, and by the fifteenth century, the word had been standardized as ginger. At the time, this still referred exclusively to the spice, but the definition soon began to shift, as well. By 1785, ginger could be applied to the color of chickens, and the color word itself was extrapolated from that in the mid-1800s. During that time, it also was extended to describe people, cats, horses, other animals in general, and ginger-ale, peaking in usage around the year 2000. The Old English word comes from Latin zingiberi under the influence of Old French, and that in turn is from Ancient Greek zingiberis. Just like the plant itself, the word was borrowed from speakers of Sanskrit, who said srngaveram, which roughly translates to "horn body", describing the shape of the root. Finally, that most likely comes from a Dravidian language, since the southern Indians were the first to come into contact with ginger when it was brought over by Austronesian sailors.
Adam Aleksic is a 221-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
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