I never gave much thought to the gingko, or ginkgo (the latter, unintuitive though it is, is apparently the preferred spelling); I had no idea it was the subject of a well-known Goethe poem or that it was so widespread. Everything you might want to know can be found at Cor Kwant’s obsessive gingko site, The Ginkgo Pages. In particular, I direct your attention to The name, a somewhat scattershot page with the names of the plant in various languages, not to mention that Goethe poem (at the bottom). Oh, and the site itself is available in five languages. (Via Frizzy Logic.)

A caveat (and I’m sure others could be made): the name page says

Ginkgo : from the Chinese (later also Japanese) word Ginkyo meaning “silver apricot” (gin=silver, kyo=apricot). This term is thought to come from a romanized version for the Chinese ideograph Yin Hsing (Xing).

Ginkyo is not a Chinese word at all; as the AHD says:

Probably from ginkoo, an artificial or mistaken Sino-Japanese reading of the Chinese characters for ginkgo : Japanese gin, silver (from Middle Chinese ngin) + Japanese koo, kyoo, apricot (from Middle Chinese).


  1. A little-known fact about the Ginkgo is that the fruit have a slight odor of vomit. The Chinese have a gift for euphemism.

  2. From The Japanese Language by Roy Andrew Miller (U.Chi. 1967):

    A. C. Moule has argued convincingly that the form ginkgo originated in a double mistake – first, a mistaken “spelling pronunciation” of the Chinese characters generally used to write ichou, the usual Japanese name for the tree in question, second, a typographical error which replaced the -y- in Kaempfer’s already mistaken *ginkyo (for *ginkyou) with a -g-.

    (But Moule is not in Miller’s bibliography.)

  3. Not quite “everything you might want to know” — I was surprised (and, to be honest, disappointed) to find no mention of the fact that Ginkgo biloba is one of the main components of Mega Memory™ pills.

  4. Zizka, I have to say that the thing about the ginkgo fruit is pretty well-known to the residents of Washington, DC, which has a lot of ginkgos (my street is planted almost exclusively with them). Why, I ask myself every morning as I walk to the subway, didn’t they think to weed out the female trees? (Ginkgos are dioecious.) I have to say I wouldn’t characterize the scent of the fruit as “slight.” Yuck.
    On the other hand, the fruit, which looks like a small apricot and has an apricot- or almond-type kernel, is not universally loathed: there is a small Vietnamese population in my neighborhood and lately I’ve been seeing little old Asian ladies with plastic bags over their shoes and buckets in their hands, going around collecting the kernels from out of the masses of squashed fruit on the sidewalk.

  5. “Slight” — my Chinese studies have given me some euphemizing abilities.

  6. I’ve got an anecdote from distant youth involving a ginkgo tree and an old, stubborn, wooden door in an adobe wall around an abandoned garden, a hidden bee’s nest suddenly aroused, and a stunningly valorous girl-friend, but it’s too long for this format.
    So here’s this from that ’20 Questions’ thing a while back.

    Ginkgo supplements for cognitive enhancement: daily use seems to be counter-productive, some kind of mineral depletion probably.
    Every three days or so seems to be about it, for my metabolism.

  7. daily use seems to be counter-productive, some kind of mineral depletion probably.
    Aha, that explains why you haven’t been posting lately, Jonathon!
    Anton: Thanks very much; that’s exactly what I wanted to know.

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