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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I found this article in antu.com:

Talking Turkey: "The Story of How the Unofficial Bird of the United States Got Named After a Middle Eastern Country"

by Giancarlo Casale

PhD in History & MES Dissertation topic: Ottoman-Portuguese Relations and the Sixteenth Century Origins of
Globalization Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies Giancarlo Casale is one of the editors of
the "Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review"

How did the turkey get its name? This seemingly harmless question popped into my head one morning as I
realized that the holidays were once again upon us. After all, I thought, there's nothing more American than
a turkey. Their meat saved the pilgrims from starvation during their first winter in New England. Out of
gratitude, if you can call it that, we eat them for Thanksgiving dinner, and again at Christmas, and gobble
them up in sandwiches all year long. Every fourth grader can tell you that Benjamin Franklin was particularly
fond of the wild turkey, and even campaigned to make it, and not the bald eagle, the national symbol. So how
did such a creature end up taking its name from a medium sized country in the Middle East? Was it just a
coincidence? I wondered.

The next day I mentioned my musings to my landlord, whose wife is from Brazil. "That's funny," he said, "In
Portuguese the word for turkey is `peru.' Same bird, different country." Hmm.

With my curiosity piqued, I decided to go straight to the source. That very afternoon I found myself a Turk
and asked him how to say turkey in Turkish. "Turkey?" he said. "Well, we call turkeys `hindi,' which means,
you know, from India." India? This was getting weird.

I spent the next few days finding out the word for turkey in as many languages as I could think of, and the
more I found out, the weirder things got. In Arabic, for instance, the word for turkey is "Ethiopian bird,"
while in Greek it is "gallapoula" or "French girl." The Persians, meanwhile, call them "buchalamun" which
means, appropriately enough, "chameleon."

In Italian, on the other hand, the word for turkey is "tacchino" which, my Italian relatives assured me,
means nothing but the bird. "But," they added, "it reminds us of something else. In Italy we call corn, which
as everybody knows comes from America, `grano turco,' or `Turkish grain.'" So here we were back to Turkey
again! And as if things weren't already confusing enough, a further consultation with my Turkish informant
revealed that the Turks call corn "misir" which is also their word for Egypt!

By this point, things were clearly getting out of hand. But I persevered nonetheless, and just as I was about
to give up hope, a pattern finally seemed to emerge from this bewildering labyrinth. In French, it turns out,
the word for turkey is "dinde," meaning "from India," just like in Turkish. The words in both German and
Russian had similar meanings, so I was clearly on to something. The key, I reasoned, was to find out what
turkeys are called in India, so I called up my high school friend's wife, who is from an old Bengali family,
and popped her the question.

"Oh," she said, "We don't have turkeys in India. They come from America. Everybody knows that."

"Yes," I insisted, "but what do you call them?"

"Well, we don't have them!" she said. She wasn't being very helpful.

Still, I persisted:

"Look, you must have a word for them. Say you were watching an American movie translated from English and the
actors were all talking about turkeys. What would they say?"

"Well...I suppose in that case they would just say the American word, `turkey.' Like I said, we don't have

So there I was, at a dead end. I began to realize only too late that I had unwittingly stumbled upon a
problem whose solution lay far beyond the capacity of my own limited resources. Obviously I needed serious
professional assistance. So the next morning I scheduled an appointment with Prof. ªinasi Tekin of Harvard
University, a world- renowned philologist and expert on Turkic languages. If anyone could help me, I figured
it would be Professor Tekin.

As I walked into his office on the following Tuesday, I knew I would not be disappointed. Prof. Tekin had a
wizened, grandfatherly face, a white, bushy, knowledgeable beard, and was surrounded by stack upon stack of
just the sort of hefty, authoritative books which were sure to contain a solution to my vexing Turkish
mystery. I introduced myself, sat down, and eagerly awaited a dose of Prof. Tekin's erudition.

"You see," he said, "In the Turkish countryside there is a kind of bird, which is called a çulluk. It looks
like a turkey but it is much smaller, and its meat is very delicious. Long before the discovery of America,
English merchants had already discovered the delicious çulluk, and began exporting it back to England, where
it became very popular, and was known as a `Turkey bird' or simply a `turkey.' Then, when the English came to
America, they mistook the birds here for çulluks, and so they began calling them `turkey" also. But other
peoples weren't so easily fooled. They knew that these new birds came from America, and so they called them
things like `India birds,' `Peruvian birds,' or `Ethiopian birds.' You see, `India,' `Peru' and `Ethiopia'
were all common names for the New World in the early centuries, both because people had a hazier
understanding of geography, and because it took a while for the name `America' to catch on.

"Anyway, since that time Americans have begun exporting their birds everywhere, and even in Turkey people
have started eating them, and have forgotten all about their delicious çulluk. This is a shame, because
çulluk meat is really much, much tastier."

Prof. Tekin seemed genuinely sad as he explained all this to me. I did my best to comfort him, and tried to
express my regret at hearing of the unfairly cruel fate of the delicious çulluk. Deep down, however, I was
ecstatic. I finally had a solution to this holiday problem, and knew I would be able once again to enjoy the
main course of my traditional Thanksgiving dinner without reservation.

Now if I could just figure out why they call those little teeny dogs Chihuahuas...

3,458 Posts
Very interesting. In my language, a 'turkey' is called 'ayam belanda'. If you take the words separately, 'ayam' means chicken or hen, 'belanda' means dutch or holland....

7,444 Posts
Great article and very funny. I never thought there was a connection with Turkiye and used to joke that we call it hindi. Now all this! wow! Another bit of trivial knowledge I'll have to release on my friends and work colleagues :D

18,434 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
waq said:
Well I already knew this story, but not in the detail found in the article thanks Cenk abi!
You are welcome Doruk...

7,015 Posts
Just some interesting notes. The first time the word turk is used as a official state name was with the Gokturks during 600AD. It was a confederation of turkish tribes.

The earliest scources where the name Turkey, or rather latin version Turchia was used was as early as during the 1100s for anatolia. The interesting thing was that the latin scources named the lands of the russian steppes as "magna turchia", "Great Turkey" while anatolia(those parts under turkish controll) were called only Turchia. The funny thing is that turks and the arabs called Anatolia during these times for "Rum"(Roman). That name later represented the area around Sivas during the Ottoman times.

The first state that used the name Turkiye was the Mamlukes of Egypt. The official name was something like Et-dawlat-i Turkiye. :eekani: Official name of the Ottomans was Devlet-i Aliye-yi Osmaniye.
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