We delved into the main dish for this Thanksgiving installment of Phrases of Yore, picking apart a few uses of the word turkey. How many of these did you know?
- First of all, why are these birds that are native to North America called turkeys? According to grammarphobia.com: “The reason is that Europeans confused it with the guinea fowl, an African species that was very briefly referred to as a ‘turkey’ because it was thought to have been imported into Europe by way of Turkey.”
- Folks who opt for a ham or roast instead of the traditional bird this holiday might agree with this slang meaning of the word, from dictionary.com: “A person or thing of little appeal; dud; loser. a naive, stupid, or inept person. a poor and unsuccessful theatrical production; flop.”
- Similarly, a “jive turkey” is defined as “someone who is unreliable, makes exaggerations or empty promises, or who is otherwise dishonest,” according to dictionary.com. This groovy-sounding term, unsurprisingly, seems to have its origins in 1970s culture.
- There’s a whole essay about the origins of the term “cold turkey” at merriam-webster.com/wordplay/why-do-we-quit-cold-turkey (Merriam-Webster’s Worldplay features are a fun way to delve into language and usage). It boils down to this explanation, which introduces another turkey term, “talk turkey”: “It may be that the original cold turkey was a combination of cold (‘straightforward, matter-of-fact’) and the earlier talk turkey, which dates back to the early 1800s and refers to speaking plainly.”