In the show Derry Girls by Lisa McGee, there’s a scene about redheads. The writer of the show satirically portrays discrimination against gingers. Dialogue from Season 1, Episode 5 includes the following:
Michelle: “You’re not a bad lookin’ lad. But the ginger element. Well, I’ve sort of got a borderline phobia.”
Emmett: “I’m not ginger.”
Michelle: “There’s a tinge, Emmett.”
Even though Emmett has dark hair, Michelle remains convinced that there’s a hint of red enough to deter her from feeling an immediate physical attraction to him. Rather than calling him a redhead, she calls him ginger.
Supposedly, the word ginger derives from British imperialism. When Britain invaded Malaysia, English people found ginger. After encountering the red ginger plant, English people associated redheads with the word ginger. Moreover, exportation of the plant and spice contributed to the etymology of the slang term because people in England gained exposure to ginger through trade. For more information on the hiostory of the term, you can check out our article on why redheads are called Gingers.
People continue to use ginger synonymously with the term redhead. However, any redhead will attest to the fact that some people use the word ginger as a pejorative. Although there’s not a definitive answer to who exactly decided to associate redheads with the ginger plant, the word has evolved into a slang term on its own. Specifically, people do not necessarily associate the word ginger with the plant now. Rather, the word ginger means either a redhead or the spice. It’s common knowledge that British people coined the word ginger and have subsequently used it discriminatively.
The word ginger can compare to the word queer. Some people may use the word queer to discriminate against people, who aren’t straight. In response, people who are queer have reclaimed the word as an identifier. Likewise, some redheads endearingly call themselves ginger. However, that’s not to say that redheads aren’t accustomed to hearing the demeaning version of the word.
It’s amusing for some redheads to watch the aforementioned scene of Derry Girls because the writer, Lisa McGee, satirically points to the fact that it’s nonsensical to discriminate against redheads. The characters in the show, who are from Northern Ireland, use the term ginger. British imperialism extends to Northern Ireland. Therefore, it only makes sense that the characters use the word ginger in association with redheads.
Celebrities and TV personalities with red hair have portrayed characters by the name Ginger. Even one of the Spice Girls, Geri Halliwell, goes by Ginger Spice. The pop star claimed the title Ginger as a powerful persona, rather than something negative. The origin of the word points to the Sanskrit name for the spice, ginger, which seems appropriate for the nickname of a Spice Girl.
Another speculation for the reason society associates the word ginger with the word redhead lies in that the residue or coating on sweets. Artificial foods with ginger in the title match a general red. For example, ginger snaps align with natural red hair colors.
Even though the word ginger can work as a synonym to the word redhead, it’s important for a speaker to consider the context and discern whether it’s appropriate to use. Most people would agree that the word redhead is politically correct. Whereas, a person can more easily express prejudice with the word ginger.