I was reading this afternoon, when the word gingerly made me pause. It’s a word I’ve come across countless times before, but today was the first time I asked myself – What does it have to do with ginger?
I’d never drawn a connection between the two words before, but imagined that, as they’re so similar, they must be linked in some way.
When I thought about the two though, I couldn’t imagine what might connect them. They’re so different. Gingerly means carefully, delicately. And ginger, well, it’s a herbaceous perennial which adds a strong kick to a stir fry or tea. Nothing gingerly about it.
It turns out that, as seems to be the case so often, the similarity between the words is entirely coincidental.
Gingerly probably comes from the Latin gentius (well-born, also source of the words gentle and genteel), which provided the sense of delicacy or refinement, with the sense of caution drifting into the word over time.
Ginger on the other hand, has an entirely unrelated etymology, passing from either Sanskrit or Dravidian through Middle English.