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.