Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Turkey Words

This afternoon, as I was snacking on some smoked turkey breast, I started thinking about words for the bird in other languages. The only ones I knew offhand were French (dinde), Spanish (pavo), and Italian (tacchino). That set me to wondering. Three romance languages with totally unrelated names for the turkey: of course, this makes a certain amount of sense since it's a new-world bird. It would have been named in those languages as it was introduced into their cultures. I started fishing around on the web for information on the subject and came up with a goldmine. The turkey problem was addressed in 1996 on the LINGUIST listserv, and a digest was compiled that thrilled my verbophile heart.

The first interesting thing is how many languages have terms that are based on the misconception that the turkey originated in India (hence dinde). The Turks call turkey "hindi." Scandinavian names associate the bird with the town of Calicut on India's Malabar coast. Could this all be related to the original misconception that the new world was "the Indies"?

In Mandarin Chinese the word is "huo ji," or fire chicken. In Japanese it's "shichimencho," or seven-faced bird!

As for the word "turkey" itself, there's the following:

"Two English dictionaries which I have consulted give similar etymologies for 'turkey'. The story goes like this. The African bird now called the 'guinea fowl' used to be called (presumably because of a mistaken belief about its origin) the 'Turkey cock', it's having arrived in Europe via Turkish territory. The bird now called 'turkey' in English was originally thought to be identical with (or a sort of) the bird now called the 'guinea fowl' and that being then called the 'Turkey cock' the turkey was also called the 'Turkey cock'."

In Egypt they call the bird "dik-rumi" (Turkish fowl).

The word in Portuguese is "peru," likely attributing its origin to that country. In India they also call turkey "peru," probably from the Portuguese. In Malaysia the turkey term ("ayam belanda") translates as "Dutch chicken." In Macedonia the bird is named for the Turkish word for Egypt!

But wait! There's more...


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