Talking Turkey

Less inquisitive people would most likely dismiss the connection between turkeys and Turkey, the country, as mere coincidence. Someone once told me that Turkey was named after the New World bird, although considering that the nation’s name can predated to at least 1369 in Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess, the bird was not discovered by Europeans until Columbus’ 1493 expedition.

The link itself is somewhat more tenuous, and actually pertains to guinea fowl.

You see, helmeted guinea fowl were considered to be a bit of a food trend in medieval Europe. They were imported from Madagascar through Turkey, then part of the Ottoman Empire, via the Mediterranean Sea.

The merchants that brought this species to Europe were often referred to as “Turkey merchants”, which is the first point in which the perception turns fowl. Sorry. This term initially referred to the homeland of the merchants and not their cargo, just to be clear, however this appears to have fallen into a misconception among some that the birds themselves were called turkeys, with the terms “turkey hen” and “Turkish chicken” being used to describe guinea fowl frequently at the time.

Fast forward one perilous seafaring expedition, and Christopher Columbus has happened upon the New World with all its exciting new produce such as tobacco, potatoes and, my oh my, a species of bird domesticated by the Aztecs that had an uncanny resemblance to the guinea fowl.

Introduced to England by the 1530s, this new bird was mistakenly also given the name “turkey”, due to a mixture of physical similarity, tastiness and also being a reasonably new, exotic discovery.

The Turks, just to be wrong in their own way, called guinea fowl “hindi” due to an inexplicable misconception that the bird came from the east, in India.

3 thoughts on “Talking Turkey”

  1. So do guines fowl have no connection with Guinea (West Africa) where I thought they came from?
    Also, the Turkish for turkey that you quote is related to the French ‘dined’ which is ‘de l’inde’ or ‘from India’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t find a conclusive account of where they first hailed from – generally speaking, their natural habitats include the majority of the southern half of Africa, parts of the Eastern coast and a comparatively small area around Nigeria, which I believe is part of the Guinea Coast. This isn’t where they came to Europe from, although I would presume that it’s a reasonably safe bet that this is where the modern term comes from.

      I have seen sources quoting that the French followed the same misguided belief!

      Liked by 1 person

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