Turkey vs. turkey

Two-Part Question:

a) This might sound odd, but is the proper name “Turkey” just a Western-world transliteration of some hard-to-pronounce Islamic name? Do the Turkish call it “Turkey”?

b) Is there any relation in between “Turkey” and why we call a certain bird a turkey?

I had to ask…

  • Jinx

The CIA world factbook is your friend.

Looks pretty close to ‘Turkey’ to me.

Covered by WorldWideWords

A couple of years ago there werer commercials running on the Sunday morning news shows, sponsored by the government of Turkey, in which they made a very definite point of spelling and pronouncing the name of their country as Turkiye (“turk-ee-yeh” or “toork-ee-yeh”). I suspect that “Turkey” is an imposition of English mapmakers and gazetteers. The English have a long tradition of not going out of their way to pronounce or spell place names so that they agree with the way the inhabitants did so. I think they regarded it as “condescending”. Americans inherited the habit, and to some degree kept it up themselves, although in more recent history everyone has been getting more “sensitive” to this issue. But “Turkey” has a lot of historical momentum behind it, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

Stay tuned for a Staff Report on this very subject that should be coming out in the next few weeks.

English is hardly unique in mangling or ignoring the natives’ words/pronounciations for their native locations. The French call Germany “Allemagne,” not Deutchland. The Germans call France “Frankreich.” The Japanese call England “Igirisu.” Etc., Etc. Makes you wonder how we communicate at all, really.

I’m no world history buff, but one Doper points to a reference mentioning “the Turkish Empire” about 1530? I thought it was the Ottoman empire back then…

Maybe my facts are skewed? Hope Uncle Cecil will set us straight for good mealtime discussion this Thanksgiving!

As Cliffy of Cheers would say “It’s a little known fact…”

  • Jinx


a) Hebrew word, I am told, sounds like “turkey”…could well have entered the language (back then) just as many modern English words infiltrate other languages, for example.

b) Calicut? Is that an old name for Calcutta, perhaps?

  • Jinx

Not quite, but even the Ottoman Empire was a turkish empire.
Turkish can mean so much more than just ‘of or relating to Turkey’.
There have been several turk peoples in the world, and only a fraction of them have lived in present-day Turkey. The most famous example is probably the Huns, (of Attila fame). The Ottomans didn’t grow to force until well into the 14th century, so the ‘turkish’ merchants referred to were more likelly remnants of the Great Seljuk Empire, (which was at its strongest in the 13th century).

Nope! Calcutta is in north-east, whereas Calicut is in south-west.

According to OED, the origin of the word “Turk” is unknown, although they do speculate that is might be related to Chinese tu-kin, which was the name given to “a people living south of the Altai Mountains circa 177 BC.”

I thought that the turkey was native to the new world. Is the turkey cock that tc post talks about the same a turkey that is sold for eating in the states?

Quoting from my own post above:

I believe that is about as New-World as it gets.

On re-reading I see that I had somehow lost track of time. The turkish empire mentioned of the 1540s was of course the Ottoman Empire. Please forget all my references to the Seljuks.

I don’t believe there is a consensus on who the Huns were, or even whether they were of a homogenous ethnicity. They may, as you say, have been Turkic, but this is primarily a linguistic grouping, and we don’t know what language they spoke. For what it’s worth, the Hungarians consider Atila/Atli/Etzel/the scourge of God one of their own.

In Turkey, the turkey is called hindi. This comes from the name the Ottoman Turks used for the New World, Hind-i Garb (‘India of the West’).

The Turkish name of Turkey itself is Türkiye. Its use goes back only to the establishment of the republic in 1923. The Ottoman state before that was named Devlet-i Aliye-i Osmaniye (The Sublime Ottoman State). The Ottomans themselves did not call their country an empire, that was a European usage.

I think they came up with the name Türkiye to correspond with the English or French form of the name. Or maybe the Arabic form of it, which is Turkiyah. At any rate, it had been called “Turkey” or “La Turquie” for centuries before they started using the name Türkiye. I’d noticed they had this big campaign to get English speakers to say “Türkiye,” but that got nowhere. They did, however, succeed in getting us to say Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara instead of Constantinople, Smyrna, and Angora. But back in the 1930s Winston Churchill absolutely refused to say “Istanbul.” His generation died out and that was that.

[hijack] How much do frozen turkeys cost in the US? I have never bought one here in Australia, and yesterday was looking at them. I was quite shocked to see they were nearly $AU70 (that’s about $US35). I figure there’s not so big a market here for them, but was curious to know what American turkey prices are like. [/hijack]

Hebrew word for turkey is “of hodoo” which loosely translates to “chicken of India.” I wouldn’t put it past some clever Israelis to call turkey “turkey” because using English, especially on restaurant menus, seems to be quite fashionable in Israel. Many dishes have English/imported names – salat, hotdog, hamburger, cheesetoast, chipsim (french fries). At least as far as I remember.

Isn’t this a subtley different point though, relating to what ‘we’ call a country and what the rest of the world calls it?
Cecil says…

cazzle asked:

Turkeys are one of those things that can vary widely in price. You can get a turkey for free sometimes, and you can pay over US $100 for one, depending on the quality and size. Prices somewhere in the range of US$2-US$5 a pound would not be unreasonable, so your US$35 bird seems OK in price.

Very slight correction - the Seljuqs were waning badly by the 13th century ( by and large ). They reached their height in the late 11th/early 12th. Central and eastern Anatolia was still under the declining Seljuq successor state, the Sultanate of Iconium ( Rum ) in the early part of the century. But they were conquered by the Mongols and mostly incoporated into the Il-Khanate ( roughly 1260-1335 ).

  • Tamerlane

The Mexicans call the turkey pavo, which originally meant ‘peacock’. (The turkey may have a somewhat showy tail, but it’s not quite peacock quality in my view.) Now that this analogy is in place…

The Biblical Hebrew word for ‘peacock’ is tukki. King Solomon’s ships traveled to exotic lands and famously brought back “ivory, apes, and peacocks” (3 Kings 10:22). In the Hebrew text, the word used for ‘peacock’ is tukki, which apparently comes from the Tamil word for peacock: tôkai. It’s the similarity of Hebrew tukki and English turkey, alongside the Mexican Spanish use of pavo to mean ‘turkey’, that has inspired some people to derive English turkey from Hebrew.

A more correct translation would be tarnegol hodu, but I’ve heard of used instead (most Israelis just call it hodu - “India”). I’ve never seen it referred to as “turkey”, though.

Did you know that Israelis are the largest consumers of turkey in the world? More than twice as much as Americans, per capita. OTOH, it’s rarely eaten whole, Thanksgiving-style, but rather largely processed and used where other nations would use beef (hotdogs, pastrame, schnitzels). Israeli beef tends to be generally crappy.

Tuki is in fact Hebrew for “parrot”; the word for “peacock” is tavas.