Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Happy Thanksgiving! This is the one thing I've written that I most want lots of people to read. If I had only found it in a book I would have sent a copy to everyone I know, too. Please laugh, and please have a grateful holiday.

The etymology of Turkey:

Turk - M.E., from Fr. Turc, from M.L. Turcus, from Byzantine Gk. Tourkos, Pers. turk, a national name, of unknown origin. Said to mean "strength" in Turkish. Young Turk was a member of an early 20c. political group in the Ottoman Empire that sought rejuvenation of the Turkish nation. turkey - 1541, "guinea fowl" (numida meleagris), imported from Madacascar via Turkey, by Near East traders known as turkey merchants. The larger North American bird (meleagris gallopavo) was domesticated by the Aztecs, introduced to Spain by conquistadors (1523) and thence to wider Europe, by way of Africa and Turkey (Indian corn was originally turkey corn or turkey wheat in Eng. for the same reason). The word turkey was first applied to it in Eng. 1555 because it was identified with or treated as a species of the guinea fowl. The New World bird itself reputedly reached England by 1524 (when Henry VIII dined on it at court). Turkeys raised by the Pilgrims were probably stock brought from England. By 1575, turkey was becoming the usual main course at an English Christmas. Meaning "inferior show, failure," is 1927 in show business slang, probably from the image of the turkey as a stupid bird.

My dad was asking, so I looked it up. The reason we have a bird and a country with the same name (and the slang use for a stupid or goofy person), Turkey, is as follows:

1. Turkey is named, obviously, for the Turks, and Turk is a Persian word that referred to a nation somewhere when Persia was still a big thing. In Turkish, the word "turk" came to mean strength.

2. Turkeys are native to two parts of the world: Madagascar and the Americas. Way before America was discovered by Columbus, merchants imported turkeys from Madagascar to Europe, by way of Turkey (which wasn't called Turkey then). Since the Turks were the salesmen in the middle of the trade route, the birds came to be named after them. Aztecs in America also bred turkeys. Perhaps we should call the birds aztekies.

3. Once America began to be colonized, esp. by the Spanish in the south, conquistadors sent turkeys over to Europe. The name "turkey" wasn't applied to them until after this, and the name originated in Europe, where people figured out the two species were similar.

4. One website I encountered suggested three other ideas for where turkeys got their names, but I found them unscientific. Since they were still entertaining, I'll give them to you.
  • You have probably heard that American Indians were called that because Columbus landed here and thought he'd reached India. Thinking this, and seeing the plumage of native wild turkeys, Columbus may have named them the word for peacock in the tongue of India (where peacocks were found), which is "tuka". Sounds similar, almost, but it doesn't convince me.
  • Native Americans (before they knew they were supposed to be Indians) called the birds "firkee" which, as I'm sure you can hear in your head (or out loud if you are one of those loud people), sounds a whole lot like "turkey." Basically, just change one letter, and that has happened converting English to English, let alone foreign languages. Actually, if you go to Africa, our translations of the words we hear there can be quite different from others who visited. It depends on the ear gene you inherited or something. = )
  • When turkeys are afraid, they make a sound as they run, not a gobble, but "turk, turk, turk." This does not mean that the Ottomans are chasing them. That's just what they say. Hmm. Maybe that's where the Turks got their name, though? I won't go there, at least not yet. Ok, yes I will:

5. There once was a man from the region east of Anatolia, which was east of Greece. I think it was also west of Persia and south of Russian and north of Africa and southwest of... never mind. He liked to travel, so he sold all he had, took his three sons, and sailed to a little island SOUTH, called Madagascar (actually, I don't know if that was it's name then, but since you probably don't know what its name was then, it would be useless for me to waste time finding out and using it, since you wouldn't know what I'm talking about. On a similar note, Anatolia is the region known in the Bible as Asia Minor and on your most modern map as Turkey). While he was vacationing there on the beach, he feasted on a native bird similar to the pheasant. It was so delicious, that he wanted to take some home.

So when he finally got tired of all the sun and cannibals, he and his two sons (guess where the other one went) packed up along with some of the birds and sailed home. He threw a coming home party, and all of his neighbors loved the poultry he fed them. They wanted to know what it was and how to get some. This man from the region east of Anatolia was poor after being gone so long without working, so he decided this would make a good business.

A sign was soon seen in front of his house reading (in what language, I've no idea; it probably doesn't exist anymore) "Poultry for sail. Taking orders." (ok, so he couldn't spell sale, but he wasn't in the sign making business, so it didn't matter.) All of his neighbors signed up for at least a week's supply, and prepaid him. His sons went with him to brave the cannibals and to collect a supply of birds to bring home. The first trip was successful, and eventually they made friends with the natives, who agreed to breed the birds for him in recompense for the loss of his third son. It became quite a thriving business, and a few of the enterprising neighbors also got involved. They built boats and began shipping the birds also.

The delicacy became famous all over the known world, even Persia. To get the birds up to Persia, the men from the region east of Anatolia herded them north and east. Birds are frightened easily, and herders scared them into running the direction (hopefully) they wanted them to go. Coming into Persia, they always had a big welcome, because the noise of the birds could be heard miles - or at least yards, meters, cubits or whatever they used back then - away. People who were especially fond of the meat would chant as the herders entered the city, "Turk, turk, turk!"

Later when these men no longer herded birds, but men instead, the Persians ran in fear, screaming, "turk, turk..." The men took up the name, and it came to be a chant of their strength. Back home, they reminded themselves of their strength (for pride accompanies power) by calling themselves Turks. The birds they kept and sold couldn't keep their name of turk, since it meant strength now and the birds were stupid, not strong.

They were called turkey. This term was also used as a nickname for those among the Turks whose behavior resembled the turkey's. In Europe the names caught on, and they passed it to America, where a bigger version of the bird was bred by scalpers, not cannibals.

*I must inform you that although some parts of this story are factual, a whole lot is fictional. Please do not include any of the information found in #5 for a scientific report or to attempt to astound your friends with your incredible knowledge. = )

To God be all glory.


Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Did you write all that yourself?

Lisa of Longbourn said...

I don't usually steal material. The information is obviously taken from other sources, and the top part is from the Online Etymology Dictionary linked. I'm a writer; what can I say?
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Dr. Paleo Ph.D. said...

Really? You mean you wrote that entire story up?

How fun! That was really ingenious, I must say...and I didn't mean stealing....