Left: Pencil sketch on Nideggen paper with gouache layers. Not a "ginger" because the orange hair on this fantasy person is too dark. I was simply making an insufficiently detailed note to myself. Click on the image to view an enlargement. (Journal page is approx. 6 x 9 inches.)
If you look at the Urban Dictionary you can see a lot of people have an axe to grind about the word "ginger" when applied to people sporting a certain hair color.
The other day I was reading something or listening to something (I didn't note it down so I don't really remember—too much media!) and the "commentator" went on and on about the word "ginger" complaining about how it's so "popular" now and why do we have to use such a term when redhead was totally serviceable?
When I was a young person in Australia the term was used not for redheads but for individuals more in the strawberry blond or slightly darker range. (Think Kirk Douglas made up as Vincent Van Gogh in "Lust for Life.) And because of that early introduction it has always seemed a useful word to me.
I was also quite struck to read that it was used as a deroggatory term. I've always seen it as descriptive—for hair color that is lighter than red and definitely isn't auburn.
I think of it as a term of affection. But then I live with a man who is Scottish-Irish-Finnish and if you're going to get the ginger gene that's the combination that will do it.
Thing is when I met Dick he was sun-bleached blond, I mean totally white bleached blond. OK, so maybe there was a little tinge of yellow on some hairs. But he was blond, from hours and hours of flying a sailplane in the sun. (He also had very broad shoulders from his life as a swimmer and I saw "surfer," which for a whole other group of society is also a derogatory term, but I missed California.)
There were hints that he was a ginger, but I didn't register them at the time, or grant them significance. I could have seen it in his stubble. I could have surmised it from the way he never looked quite right in a rather greenish suit he had at the time. (It was the first thing I banished when I moved in.) Only later in our relationship did I have complete information.
I could never call Dick a redhead. My mother was a redhead and her hair was very, very dark. I suppose I could stretch things and call Dick a strawberry blond, but that only works for part of the year if he has been out a lot in the sun.
Note: For many years Dick had "DWB" as hair color on his driver's license. "What's 'DWB'?" a clerk asked him once at renewal time. "Dish Water Blond," replied Dick. "You can't have that," she said. "Look in your sink after you do your dishes, that's the color of my hair," commented DIck. Dick now has "LTBR"—light brown on his license, placed there by the clerk. (It definitely isn't LTBR.)
My point is I've found it a really useful word. For instance I always thought it was the perfect way to describe one of my favorite actors, Damian Lewis. But now that I read it's an insult in the U.K. and he's English I guess it would be an insult I didn't intend.
While for the most part I don't agree with any of the definitions given on the Urban Dictionary for "ginger" (except the ones that are obviously written with a good sense of humor) I'm a little worried about the negative connotations stated and hinted at.
Language changes. Notions about stereotypes expressed in language change. But language is also a weapon. Popular use can dilute negative connotations. But that's easy for me to say because I have mousy brown hair and there really aren't any special words for that. The descriptor I'm noted by isn't related to hair color at all.
I want more words, not fewer. More specific words, not general ones. Because of context this will remain a term of endearment for me at home. But I'm going to have to come up with other descriptors…