Sunday, January 11, 2009

A country called Turkey


In today's Family Circus, Billy is wondering about a country called Chicken.

The word Turkey in English actually predates turkey, the name of the bird, by about 200 years. The country name comes from medieval Latin Turkia and has been used in English since the mid 1300s. The word turkey, however, wasn't used in English until the mid 1500s.

In fact, the bird is actually named after the country, and not because of any stupid or insulting characteristics, but because it was thought to have come from Madagascar via Turkey. Coincidentally, this is the same kind of process that gives Turkish its word for the same bird: hindi. In that case, the Spanish had brought the bird from the Americas, but at the time, Europeans believed that the Americas was actually India. So the Turks named the bird after the country that they thought it came from, Hindi (Hindistan).

Incidentally, turkey appears not to have picked up its negative meanings until about 1927.

1 comment:

Alex Case said...

And yet the Turks, who are quite happy to call the Indians turkeys, will sometimes insist on their English teachers calling the country Turkiye at all times. Odd.

I read somewhere that it was due to a similarity between the turkey and a bird previously known in Turkey rather than mistaking the origin, but as I have no idea where I read that there is no way to check my sources. Hope it wasn't because I remembered something from that John Humpreys book (shudder)