late 13c., gingerbrar, "preserved ginger," from Old French ginginbrat "ginger preserve," from Medieval Latin gingimbratus "gingered," from gingiber (see ginger). The ending changed by folk etymology to -brede "bread," a formation attested by mid-14c. Meaning "sweet cake spiced with ginger" is from 15c. Figurative use, indicating anything considered showy and insubstantial, is from c. 1600. Sense of "fussy decoration on a house" is first recorded 1757; gingerbread-work (1748) was a sailor's term for carved decoration on a ship. Gingerbread-man as a confection is from 1850; the rhyme ("The Chase of the Gingerbread Man," by Ella M. White) is from 1898.
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