It’s a Turkey

Turkey

With Thanksgiving just over the horizon, you can almost taste the turkey.

Thanks to my having lived and worked in several countries in the first part of my career, I have a bit of personal history with the word for that bird.

Peru

It began in 1971 in Brazil. On my first Thanksgiving there I learned the Portuguese word: peru. Five years later, in the USSR, I learned how to say it in Russian: indyuk (индюк, meaning Indian — from the subcontinent, not Native American).

India

This strange-looking bird — native to the New World and thus unfamiliar to Europeans until the Age of Exploration — somehow seems to have made people in several places around the globe think of it as having originated in a distant, exotic locale.

So I did a little internet research, which expanded the list of languages where our Thanksgiving bird is called by a name that makes it seem as though it has flown in from far, far away:

French: dinde (i.e., from India)

Polish: indyk (almost like Russian)

Turkish: hindi (Wow!)

I also found that Spanish speakers in different countries have several names for the bird — pavo (general term in Spain and Latin America), guanajo (Cuba), guajolote (Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras), chompipe (much of Central America), pisco (Colombia, Venezuela) and cócono (Mexico).

Gobble, gobble! It’s enough to induce indigestion!

A bit of further research uncovered the origin of the confusion — no, not Turkey, Peru or India. It seems that in years following the European discovery of the Americas (and Portuguese exploration of the African coast, including Guinea, which gave its name to the similar-looking guinea fowl), this new-to-Europe creature was sometimes mistaken for something more familiar. And at other times, it was thought to have been introduced through trade that involved merchants in Turkey.

Guinea fowl

The French, aware that the bird was found in their West Indian colonies, initially called it coq/poule d’Inde (rooster/hen of the Indies). From there, the word lost the apostrophe and became, simply, dinde.

The Portuguese, on the other hand, saw the turkey as native not to the West Indies, but to South America. Not however, in the continent’s eastern half, which they colonized and called Brazil, but in the area controlled by Spain, a good part of which was Peru.

To further explore the origin of all this confusion, you might want to read “Why Americans Call Turkey ‘Turkey.’

Or perhaps you’d rather throw in the towel on the fowl and be content in the awareness that, like the bird, the word is just a turkey.

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