What do turkeys have to do with Turkey?


Photo of turkey by Ibm4381. CC-BY.

Since the bird we know as the turkey originated in North America, it may seem strange that it has the same name as a country that straddles Europe and Asia. But there is a connection between the words.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary and other sources, the word “turkey” as applied to birds dates to the 16th century or before when traders would bring guinea fowl from Madagascar and elsewhere to Europe by way of Turkey. The birds became known as Turkey-cocks and Turkey-hens. Later, Spanish explorers and colonizers brought back turkeys, domesticated by the Aztecs, to the Europe, and their similarity to the guinea fowl caused the name to be transferred to them as well. Eventually the name of the bird became shorted to “turkey.”

Interestingly, in Turkey itself the bird is known as a hindi, a shortening of poulet d’inde, or India chicken, possibly because it was believed that the Spanish had arrived in India (which also is why indigenous Americans are often called Indians), or perhaps because after domesticated turkeys were taken to India they were later exported from there. The French word for “turkey,” dinde, is also a shortened form of “from India.” The Arabic term, diiq hindi, means “Indian rooster.”

The name of the turkey also derives from India in other languages as well. Dutch and several other languages name the bird after the Indian coastal town of Calicut. Atypically, the Portuguese word is peru, apparently named after the South American country.

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1 Comment

  • David says:

    The French may have a word for ‘turkey’, but when I lived in Paris and tried to find one for a good old fashion American-style Thanksgiving feast, there was not a single turkey to be had in the entire city!

    If memory serves, we settled for Cornish hens, and plenty of wine.

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