"ginger" for red hair

My friend traces it all the way back to a South Park episode. I traced it back to Gilligan’s Island. Can one of you kind folks trace the use of the term “ginger” as a noun to describe a person with red hair?

All I know that it’s the default term for red-haired people here in the UK. Also, what you would call an “orange” coloured cat in the USA is also know as ginger on this side of the pond.

Your friend can only trace it to South Park? Wow.

OED records the usage in 1885. I imagine that it is even earlier than that.

Gingernut biscuit = ginger coloured head (nut) = ginger for redhead.

Goodness me.

It has been the term used here in the UK to describe what Americans call “red-headed” for a long, long time. I don’t know the origin, but it certainly predates me; I’d guess it goes back a century at least, if not more.

It certainly predates South Park.

I think if one reads any English or Aussie literature from the last 50 or more years, I think he or she will find the term “ginger” to refer to a red-headed person. If anyone reads stories from either world war, there is always a guy in the unit nicnamed “Ginger” because of his red hair. I seem to remember it in both The Checquer Board and A Town Like Allice. I also seem to remember the term used in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Red Headed League and at least one of Chesterton’s Father Brown Mysteries.

And Biggles.

Which is why I think the use of the term is affected by location. I was born in 1960 (with red hair) and the first time I’d ever heard the term used to describe a red head was in the late 1980’s.

The first place I came across the term was a book, namely Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes. Posy, the youngest girl in the family, turns out to have red hair, which is referred to as “ginger” at least a few times. The book was written in 1936, so I assume Streatfeild could assume a child would be familiar with the term at that time.

This Yank, reading it at the end of the 1970s, could find enough context to figure out what it meant.

The first I saw “ginger” referred to a person was in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man when someone referred to him as “ginger colored.” They were not referring to his hair. This was in the late 60s; I think that usage had died out by that time, since the book had to explain what it meant.

Growing up I read a lot of English literature, Doyle included. I never came across “ginger” in his works, a quick search on Project Gutenberg confirmed that he didn’t use the term in any of the stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I actually learned the term “ginger” from South Park. I’m not saying that it wasn’t used, just that I didn’t pick up on it.

Upon reflection, Doyle may not have written his best work in the last 50 years. Nor did Wodehouse for that matter, so I’m on the wrong trail entirely.

Best ginger songEVER!

What’s a Biggle? :wink:

Biggle titties?

Rhyming slang - ginger beer.

Best (or worst) but certainly most disturbing music video about gingers: MIA - born free Not safe for work in any sense - includes bloody violence, “racism” and some nudity.


Biggles" (nickname for James Bigglesworth), a pilot and adventurer, is the title character and main hero of the Biggles series of youth-oriented adventure books written by W. E. Johns.

Biggles is accompanied by his cousin Algernon (‘Algy’) Lacey and his mechanic Flight Sergeant Smyth, who are to accompany Biggles on his adventures after the war; added to the team in 1935 is the teenager Ginger Hebblethwaite.

South Park does it oddly, as ginger tends to just mean redhead (according to my British friends at least), while on South Park, it means redhead with freckles and light skin.

In Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, Lord Peter Wimsey does call the redhead office boy “Ginger Joe”.