Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cold turkey

Yeah, getting back up to speed here after an outside commitment, it's lucky that one of the "non-effort" posts of recent weeks has generated some questions, and luckier still that it has also generated some answers. Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders wondered about a couple of turkey related expressions "talking turkey" and "cold turkey". Commenter Dan of My Point Being fortunately did a bit of my work for me. He brought up the theory that "cold turkey" has its roots in the result of going into withdrawal for opium addiction, when the skin turns clammy and goosebumpy. Or turkeybumpy. You get the idea.

However, the online etymology dictionary cites a slightly earlier reference which uses the idea of "cold turkey" in the sense we more widely use it, namely, "without preparation". In this etymological thread, cold turkey is a meal that requires no preparation, so it becomes a more general metaphor for things we do without building up to them. Sounds like a bit of a stretch to me, but it may be so.

Especially since, it turns out that at one point in it's history, the phrase "talking turkey" became "talking cold turkey", later to be contracted back to the original form again. It's a phrase that has lived a few lives. Originally, it meant to exchange pleasantries, presumably over a meal, but later acquired its current meaning of not dressing a matter up, but dealing in hard facts.

As the turkey seems to have been the focus of much American speech, it does really seem a shame that it didn't become our national bird.

(The Cold Turkey image is by Hayden Kays.)


  1. Why thank you for your attribution ;)
    Now we have that little question out the way i pose another....what came first the country or the bird?
    im sure i could y'know look it up and find that the country was only born after ww1 by mustafa kemal ataturk...but where is the etymological missing link here people?

  2. Dan, I think I may have run across a bit on this as I came across references to the bird turkey, but I'm not sure they were all that substantiated.

    I may give it a go, though...

  3. I wondered after reading Dan's comment why the expression did not become "cold tongue." Tongue is the goose-bumpy meat I remember fondly from my youth.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home

  4. Peter, makes sense....ugghhh tongue...we used to eat tongue sandwiches as kids...beef tongue...not turkey tongue...they would be tiny...
    though it could have been turkish beef tongue, i where was i?

  5. As a kid, I marveled at the size of those damned tongues, probably my first inkling that there was a world outside my own experience. What a big mouth one would have to have to accommodate a tongue that size.

  6. I have to say that I am glad it was not part of any culinary tradition I was part of, though Mexican culture here seems to be partial to.

    My great aunts did like to eat brains, come to think of it.

  7. John Lennon + Eric Clapton do not a good song make.

  8. I know, but this blog is kind of an homage to all the songs I never listened to.

    Also, a bad song is quite appropriate to withdrawal from heroin addiction.

    I'm guessing.