March 24, 2003
Etymology Of Turkey

I'm sure most of my readers are familiar with this usage of the word "turkey" (quoted from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary):

5a A poor or unsuccessful film or theatrical production, a flop. More widely, anything disappointing or of little value; a stupid or inept person. slang (orig. N. Amer.)

I wonder if the philologists of the distant future, studying English as a long-dead language, will surmise that the behavior of the nation of Turkey in the current crisis had something to do with the development of the last third of meaning 5a, "a stupid or inept person". Of course, it was already established in the last century, but that may not be obvious far in the future.

By the way, a college classmate (hi, Tom!) had a theory I've always found plausible about how 'turkey' acquired that particular shade of meaning. It comes, he says, from high school wrestling coach slang. The second-most-inept thing a wrestler can be is a "fish", flopping helplessly back and forth on the mat as his opponent mashes him flat. The worst thing is a "turkey", lying helpless on the mat like a turkey trussed up for Thanksgiving dinner. If he's right -- I wouldn't know --, the usage has nothing to do with the stupidity of the live bird.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at March 24, 2003 09:21 PM

Now let's be nice about turkeys. They're not all bad!

Geoffrey Barto
(the TurkeyBlogger)

Posted by: Geoffrey Barto on March 27, 2003 04:25 AM

This might be of interest.

Posted by: Bashir Gemayel on March 27, 2003 10:28 AM

Why don't you take a trip to Europe and learn where and when people use the word "Turk"? Only then you might realize what "The Turk" would do to a redneck like you.

P.S to others: Turks always welcome people from all around the world: No matter who you are or where you come from, you're welcome. The bad news is only for those who dare to confront The Turk and Turkey.

Posted by: The Turk on March 13, 2004 06:44 PM

Dear Dr. Weevil,
jokes and chauvenism aside, I would like to inform you of a couple of facts:

First, The country name predates the name of the animal in English. As you might even know, turkey the bird is originally from Americas and didn't appear in Europe before 16 th Century. As for the reason why it is called turkey, there are several concurrent explanations, one is that English thought the bird was coming from Ottoman Empire, Turkey the county. It might as well be, since in Turkish, same animal is called Indian.

Second, if turkey was given the connotations you are talking about above, that happened also later on and have absolutely nothing to do with country.

Third, if you guys (and I am referring to Anglo-saxons, British and early Americans like) are so confused about where exactly was this animal coming from, to the extent of giving it the name of the country, may be you might consider calling yourself( or at least your forefathers) turkey( and that is with the meaning of "stupid, inept person"). I will also add one more adjective: uneducated.

Posted by: OM on July 27, 2004 03:45 AM