Monday, November 19, 2007


always made me think twice. It's been such a long time since I started learning English as a second language that I don't remember whether I first learned about Turkey, the country, or turkey, the bird. I'm inclined to think that it was turkey the bird, because Mrs. McGrady and her army of lunch ladies at Captain elementary would make a rotating parade of mystery meats, of which turkey was one of the less mysterious and more trustworthy. But I digress.

I had always suspected that the bird had something to do with the eponymous country, but only today did I find out the real story from where else but Wikipedia! According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, the following is the story behind the naming of America's favorite cold season mascot between Halloween and Christmas:

When Europeans first encountered turkeys in the Americas, they incorrectly identified the birds as a type of guinea fowl (Numida meleagris), also known as a turkey-cock from its importation to Central Europe through Turkey, and the name of that country stuck as the name of the bird. The confusion is also reflected in the scientific name: meleagris is Greek for guinea-fowl.

The names for M. gallopavo in other languages also frequently reflect its exotic origins, seen from an Old World viewpoint, and add to the confusion about where turkeys actually came from. The many references to India seen in common names go back to a combination of two factors: first, the genuine belief that the newly-discovered Americas were in fact a part of Asia, and second, the tendency during that time to attribute exotic animals and foods to a place that symbolized far-off, exotic lands. The latter is reflected in terms like "Muscovy Duck" (which is from South America, not Muscovy). This was a major reason why the name "turkey-cock" stuck to Meleagris rather than to the guinea fowl (Numida meleagris): the Ottoman Empire represented the exotic East much the same as did India.

Several other birds which are sometimes called "turkeys" are not particularly closely related: the Australian brush-turkey is a megapode, and the bird sometimes known as the "Australian turkey" is in fact the Australian Bustard, a gruiform. The bird sometimes called a Water Turkey is actually an Anhinga (Anhinga rufa)

In a similar confusion, Spanish explorers thought the turkey to be a kind of peacock and called it by the same word, pavo. Today, the turkey is still called pavo in Spanish (except in Mexico where the Nahuatl-derived name guajalote is commonly used), and the peacock is commonly referred to as pavo real ("royal turkey").

So that's the story of Turkey and a turkey :) Hope it was edifying and entertaining for you as it was for me.

Gobble gobble.
Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

A turkey in Turkey :)

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