Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkey Day inspires a linguistic research frenzy…

While learning languages and traveling to different countries, I have always been alert to the meaning behind the meaning of words.  I'm not a linguist by any means, but innate curiosity often drives many small research projects.
What a Turkey really looks like
(Image from:
The word "Turkey" is a prime example.  Now, here in the USA, Turkey might more popularly be known as the large bird that is roasted and carved every forth Thursday of November - rather than a country in the Middle East.  Although, with recent news the popular awareness of Turkey as a country has improved. 

Turkey - the country (above) vs. turkey - the bird (below)

 The coincidence of terms, "turkey" for a bird and "Turkey" for a country, sparked all sorts of cheesy jokes at last year's Thanksgiving celebration with my family.  The jokes were so bad they were good - so we all had a good chuckle. (Just a snapshot - "See, I can speak Turkey too 'gobble, gobble'.")

In all seriousness though, when and how did the bird native to North America come to be named Turkey?  And why in Turkey, is turkey (the bird) called hindi (which seems to be derived from the word for India, which is Hindistan)?

After doing a little research, I came to a blog, the hot word, that has a pretty good explanation... and since I have "Turkey Day" preparations to get to, I'll just re-post here:

"The former center of the Ottoman Empire isn’t exactly a breeding ground for the bird that we most closely associate with Thanksgiving. In fact, the turkey is native to North America.

So why do they share the same name?

First, let’s get the facts on the two turkeys.

Meleagris gallopavo is an odd-looking bird that is known for his bare head, wattle, and iridescent plumage. Like many species, the feathers of the male turkey are brighter than the female.

The republic of Turkey straddles Asia and Europe and has coastline along the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean. Its capital city is Ankara.

Here’s how they are related. In the 1540s, the guinea fowl, a bird with some resemblance to the Thanksgiving avian, was imported from Madagascar through Turkey by traders known as turkey merchants. The guinea fowl was also nicknamed the turkey fowl. Then, the Spanish brought turkeys back from the Americas by way of North Africa and Turkey, where the bird was mistakenly called the same name. Europeans who encountered the bird in the Americas latched on to the “turkey fowl” name, and the term was condensed simply to “turkey.” Turkeys have fared better than their guinea fowl relatives on the international scene, perhaps explaining why you probably have never heard of guinea fowl until right now.

The Turkish name for the bird is hindi, which literally means “Indian.” This name likely derived from the common misconception that India and the New World were one and the same."

Thus, I have my answer for both the English word "turkey" and the Turkish word "hindi".  

Wow - isn't the internet just wonderful sometimes?

Hope everyone has a happy Turkey Day tomorrow - whether to you that means Thanksgiving or just another day living in Turkey...

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