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The adverb is possibly derived from Anglo-Norman gençur and Old French gençor, gensor (more beautiful; more polite) [and other forms] + English -ly (suffix forming adverbs). Gençor is the comparative form of gent (beautiful, fair, handsome; high-born, noble; of a person: pleasant, polite; of language: courteous, eloquent; courteously; elegantly, tastefully),[1] from Late Latin *gentus, a variant of Latin genitus ((well-)begotten), the perfect passive participle of gignō (to bear, beget, give birth to; to cause, produce, yield),[2] ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ǵenh₁- (to beget, give birth to; to produce).

The Oxford English Dictionary notes there is a gap of a few centuries in written works between the Anglo-Norman and Old French words which date from the 12th century, and the modern French word which is only attested after the end of the 13th century. Thus, if the modern English word is derived from the Anglo-Norman and Old French words, it must have been transmitted orally or in writings now lost, perhaps as a technical term in dancing.[1]

The adjective is derived from the adverb, possibly because -ly is also a suffix forming adjectives.[1]



gingerly (comparative more gingerly, superlative most gingerly)

  1. In a cautious and delicate manner; (very) carefully or cautiously.
    Synonyms: (chiefly Britain, regional, Canada, US) ginger, tentatively, warily
    He placed the glass jar gingerly on the concrete step.
    • 1592, Thomas Nash[e], Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Deuill. [], London: [] [John Charlewood for] Richard Ihones, [], OCLC 86095368; republished as J[ohn] Payne Collier, editor, Pierce Penniless’s Supplication to the Devil. [], London: [] [Frederic Shoberl, Jun.] for the Shakespeare Society, 1842, OCLC 1080805044, page 21:
      In an other corner, Mistris Minx, a marchants wife, that will eate no cherries, forsooth, but when they are at twentie shillings a pound, that lookes as simperingly as if she were besmeard, and iets it as gingerly as if she were dancing the canaries, []
    • 1604 (first performance), Tho[mas] Dekker; Iohn Webster [i.e., John Webster], VVest-vvard Hoe. [], London: [] Iohn Hodgets [], published 1607, OCLC 70724531, Act V:
      [E]nter you the chambers peaceably, locke the dores gingerly, looke vpon your vviues wofully, but vpon the euill-doers, moſt vvickedly.
    • 1624 November 3 (first performance), Philip Massinger, “The Parliament of Love”, in W[illiam] Gifford, editor, The Plays of Philip Massinger, [], volume II, London: [] G[eorge] and W[illiam] Nicol; [] by W[illiam] Bulmer and Co. [], published 1805, OCLC 1117539173, Act V, scene i, page 307:
      Prithee, gentle officer, / Handle me gingerly, or I fall to pieces, / Before I can plead mine.
    • 1667 July 13 (date written; Gregorian calendar), Samuel Pepys; Mynors Bright, transcriber, “July 3rd, 1667”, in Henry B[enjamin] Wheatley, editor, The Diary of Samuel Pepys [], volume VII, London: George Bell & Sons []; Cambridge: Deighton Bell & Co., published 1896, OCLC 1016700617, page 5:
      [] Sir W. Pen made a formal speech in answer to a question of the King's, whether the lying of the sunk ships in the river would spoil the river. But, Lord! how gingerly he answered it, and with a deal of do that he did not know whether it would be safe as to the enemy to have them taken up, but that doubtless it would be better for the river to have them taken up.
    • 1762, [Laurence Sterne], chapter V, in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, volume V, London: [] T. Becket and P. A. Dehondt, [], OCLC 959921544, page 37:
      My mother was going very gingerly in the dark along the paſſage which led to the parlour, as my uncle Toby pronounced the word wife.
    • 2012 June 3, Nathan Rabin, “The Simpsons (Classic): ‘Mr. Plow’”, in The A.V. Club[1], archived from the original on 27 October 2020:
      Purchasing a snowplow transforms Homer [Simpson] into a new man. Mr. Burns' laziest employee suddenly becomes an ambitious self-starter who buys ad time on local television at 3:17 A.M (prime viewing hours, Homer gingerly volunteers, for everyone from alcoholics to the unemployable to garden-variety angry loners) and makes a homemade commercial costarring his family.
    • 2014 January 20, Michael Daly, “The Black and White Men who Saved Martin Luther King’s Life”, in The Daily Beast[2], published 14 April 2017 (update), archived from the original on 18 January 2021:
      [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] was later said to have been within a sneeze or a jolt of extinction. Were it not for the pair of cops who gingerly carried him from Blumstein’s department store and the pair of surgeons who performed lifesaving surgery at Harlem Hospital there would have been no "I Have a Dream" speech and likely no national holiday honoring him.
  2. (obsolete) Chiefly of dancing or walking: done with small, dainty steps; daintily; also, with excessive delicacy; affectedly, mincingly.
    • 1604 (first performance), Tho[mas] Dekker; Iohn Webster [i.e., John Webster], VVest-vvard Hoe. [], London: [] Iohn Hodgets [], published 1607, OCLC 70724531, Act II:
      Oh! ſhe lookes ſo ſugredly, ſo ſimpringly, ſo gingerly, ſo amarouſly, ſo amiably. [] [She] is ſuch an intycing ſhee-vvitch, carrying the charmes of your Ievvels about her. Oh!

Derived terms[edit]

  • ginger (adjective, adverb, and verb)

Related terms[edit]



gingerly (comparative more gingerly, superlative most gingerly)

  1. Often of movements: very careful, cautious, or delicate.
    Synonyms: (chiefly Britain, regional, Canada, US) ginger, gingerish, tentative, wary
  2. (obsolete) Often of a person or the way they move: dainty, delicate; also, excessively delicate; affected, mincing.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 gingerly, adv. and adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2020; “gingerly, adv. and adj.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  2. ^ Compare “gent, adj., n.1, and adv.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2021.