General English


  • The knobbly, buff-coloured, branching rhizome (creeping fleshy root) of a tropical plant, Zingiber officinale, with a warm aroma and hot burning taste. Available fresh, dried, preserved in sugar syrup and as a ground dried powder. Used extensively in all forms in all cuisines.


  • noun (a person who is) homosexual. Rhyming slang from ‘ginger beer’: queer. A piece of pre-World War II London working-class argot which is very much alive in spite of the decline in ginger-beer drinking.


  • noun a plant with a hot-tasting root used in cooking and medicine
  • noun a spice made from the powdered root of this plant

Origin & History of “ginger”

Few foodstuffs can have been as exhaustively etymologized as ginger – Professor Alan Ross, for instance, begetter of the U/non-U distinction, wrote an entire 74-page monograph on the history of the word in 1952. And deservedly so, for its ancestry is extraordinarily complex. Its ultimate source was Sanskrit śrn̄gavēram, a compound formed from śrn̄gam ‘horn’ and vẽra- ‘body’; the term was applied to ‘ginger’ because of the shape of its edible root. this passed via Prakrit singabēra and Greek ziggíberis into Latin as zinziberi. In post-classical times the Latin form developed to gingiber or gingiver, which Old English borrowed as gingifer. English reborrowed the word in the 13th century from Old French gingivre, which combined with the descendant of the Old English form to produce middle English gingivere – whence modern English ginger.

Its verbal use, as in ‘ginger up’, appears to come from the practice of putting a piece of ginger into a lazy horse’s anus to make it buck its ideas up.