Origin of Ginger


*Good job on the history of ginger, Dex. Just wanted to note a fine point of etymology …

Zingiber is the Greek form of the word, from Arabic zanjabîl, from Sanskrit s’ringivera. Actually, the Sanskrit word itself is derived from a loanword from Dravidian.

The Proto-Dravidian word for ginger was *ciñci, and vêr means ‘root’ (in Tamil, the word for ginger is now iñci, and vêr still means root). Sanskrit borrowed the compound *ciñci vêr, ‘ginger root’. In Sanskrit they made what is known as a “folk etymology” by merging this unfamiliar word from another language with a similar-sounding word in Sanskrit that seemed to make sense. S’ringa is the Sanskrit word for ‘horn’ (from Proto-Indo-European *ker-no-, related to English horn, Latin cornu, and Cernunnos, the ancient Celtic Horned God; it’s also connected with Semitic words for horn: compare Arabic qarn, Hebrew qeren). The ginger rhizome does branch in a way that vaguely resembles antlers, but the original Dravidian word is unrelated to the Indo-European words for horn.

Another Dravidian “root” word :wink: in English is vetiver from Tamil veTTi vêr, ‘dug-up root’ (veTTi is from the verbal root veL- meaning ‘to cut, chop, dig’). They dig it up because it’s so useful.

Very interesting and thorough article! Anyone have info on the Thai drink mentioned? I couldn’t find anything searching online for khing sot. Thanks!

These are the only links I can find. Khing sot seems to be more of a ginger syrup used for cooking than ginger drink.

Thought she was on a three hour tour

Now, in 2013, the internet comes up with new information: “Grantham Gingerbread” is a type of cookie/biscuit/pastry invented in the “early 1700’s” and re-popularized in 2011.


Sigh. That Staff Report was from a lonnnnng time ago, I guess I’ll have to track down whether it needs to be amended. Thanks for the info, Johanna.

It’s too bad you didn’t see her post 12 years ago. =)
Powers &8^]

Try searching without the H: “king sot” in parentheses to keep those together along with the word ginger. I came up with this on Google. King literally means “fresh ginger,” king meaning “ginger.” It’s pronounced closer to a G sound, which is why it’s usually not transliterated with the H, which would give the K a K sound.

Ah, and one more thing. Upon conferring with my Thai wife to be sure I was correct, the actual drink is called namking or nam king. Googling “nam king” + ginger + drink gets you this. Adding the H gets you a substantial albeit fewer number of hits. And I see sometimes sot is rendered sod due to the vagaries of transliteration.

Well, I screwed that up. I meant to say: King sot literally means “fresh ginger,” king meaning “ginger.”

From the OP:

OK, I can see how one gets from *ker-no- to cornu, but how does one get from *ker-no- to s’ringa? I mean, they both have an n and an r in them, and k is similar to g, but they’re in a completely different order. And where does the s come from?

*ker-no- has 3 consonants, k r n.
/r/ stayed the same.
/n/ became /ŋ/ or /ŋg/
/k/ became <s’>, which I believe is pronounced like the English <sh>

How can a /k/ become an <sh>, you may ask? The same way a ‘hard c’ in Latin became <ch> in Italian and a ‘soft c’ or /s/ in Spanish.

Latin Caesar (pronounced like English kaiser)
Italian Cesare (pronounced like chez ah ray)
Spanish *César (pronounced say zar)

*In English, /k/ has become <ch> in certain circumstances. We have verb-noun word pairs where the verb has a /k/ or /g/ sound and the noun has a <ch> sound:

Bake a batch.
Make a match.
Stick a stitch.
Dig a ditch.
Cook in a kitchen.

It’s not hard to imagine a sequence where /k/ becomes <ch> which becomes <sh> over time.

How is it that I’ve spoken English for 35 years and never noticed these correlations before?
Powers &8^]

Hey, he finally noticed! Cool. :cool:

A significantly excellent answer in the best Straight Dope tradition. Thanks!

I’ll add to the praise of newme’s elucidation. I, too, was never aware of those pairs.

I’ll just add one point which the language mavens here know well: that the “k/s” pairing is so distinctive that scholars of Indo-European languages for many decades considered it THE way to divide them into two groups, popularly known by respective words for “hundred” (satem in Sanskrit, and centum – pronounced ‘kentum’ – in Latin. And with “hundred,” there’s the same Germanic “h” from “cornu/horn”).

Re: “bake” a “batch,” etc…It occurs to me that Latin sort of did this, too. Verbs with roots ending in the “k” sound (e.g., fac-ere to make, do) usually had a past participle with -kt- (factus made, done, hence “thing made or done”). I’m pretty sure -kt- would evolve into palatized sounds like “ch” even more easily than -k- … See, for example, how Spanish dig-, dic- “say” (the “c” in dic- sounds like an “s”) has the past participle/noun form dicho (a “saying”), from Latin dictus.

As for more English pairs… Do you lock a latch? I believe you do! Do you Snookie some snatch? Hmm…maybe not. :slight_smile:

One more: You speak a speech.

Break - breach
Drink - drench
Seek - search
Snag - snatch? :slight_smile:

You sneak some snatch. :slight_smile:

This is new to me as well, and I’ve got a shelf full of books on language history. Nice.

Ouch. Sorry 'bout that, and I didn’t even notice that it was a resurrected thread. Life’s been way too hectic for me to have had a chance to look into that old staff report for revision, but it is on my to-do list.