Don’t Be a Turkey: Decoding the Slang and Its Origins

According to Nexis, readers have been advised to “talk turkey” or a similar phrase more than 100 times in the past month. By the time Thanksgiving was a week away, the term “all the trimmings” had appeared in news reports almost 1,000 times. The packed day will bring out the gold mine of platitudes: “Tis the season”; “Yes, Virginia,” particularly when it’s not applied to the actual letter to The Sun; references to ghosts, particularly when they’re related to the “present past”; and so forth, until we “ring in the new year” without actually ringing any bells.

For goodness’ sake, it’s enough to send a reader into a tryptophan coma. Most holiday clichés come to us through songs, and you’re welcome to sing them. Just don’t appropriate their lyrics in worn-out written clichés.

We’ve stuffed any number of stockings with rants about clichés in journalism and how tired they are. Sorry to be such a Grinch (or is that Scrooge?), but there’s something about this time of year that makes authors want to deck their copy with boughs of commonplace language from The Dictionary of Hackneyed Language, which doesn’t exist but probably should. There shouldn’t be any room at the inn for hackneyed clichés.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “hackney” as a horse “of middle size and quality, used for ordinary riding” in the fourteenth century. These middling horses were often hired out because almost anyone could ride a “hackney,” as opposed to a war horse or a jumper. So a “hackney” soon became an ordinary horse for hire. Due to their widespread usage and lack of specialization, these “hackneys” became synonymous with anything shabby, unattractive, or worn out. In addition to being a horse and, later on, a type of carriage drawn by that horse, a “hackney” could also refer to a drudge, a slave, or a prostitute.

“Hackneyed” began to mean “used so frequently and indiscriminately that it has lost its freshness and interest; made trite and commonplace; stale” around 1740, according to the OED. Similar to the fabled fruitcake that has been passed down through a family for years, but which has probably never actually happened.

The noun “hack” developed in a similar manner, swiftly acquiring the meanings of “for hire” and worn-out and useless. ” (That’s why cabbies are called “hacks. Because of the negative connotations, few writers identify as “hacks,” but many of those “hacks” are followers of the “hackneyed ”.

Now, let’s talk turkey. “Talk turkey” usually refers to “speak frankly,” but at this time of year, the conversation is more likely to center around turkey preparation. If people knew that its origin appears to be white settlers in North America defrauding Native Americans, they might use it less frequently.

While “talk turkey” might have originated in colonial times, the first recorded use is in 1824. The story has many variations, and no one is sure any of them are true. A popular theory holds that a white man and a Native American went hunting and caught some turkeys along with some less desirable birds, maybe crows or buzzards. According to The Dictionary of American Slang, the white man said something like, “You take the crow and I’ll take the turkey, or I’ll take the turkey and you take the crow.” In other words, the white man was intent on keeping the good bird. The Native American supposedly replied, “You’re not talking turkey to me. ”.

In Niles’ Weekly Register, which published articles “containing political, historical, geographical, scientifical, statistical, economical, and biographical documents, essays, and facts,” a reprint of this tale was published in 1837. One of the American magazines with the largest circulation could have contributed to the story’s dissemination, whether it was true or not.

The earliest uses of “talk turkey,” whatever its origin, involved talking to someone pleasantly. According to the World Wide Words blog, “to talk frankly to” is merely a condensed form of “to talk cold turkey to,” which originally meant to employ direct or severe language. In some areas of the country, “talk turkey” also means “shooting the breeze,” discussing meaningless things.

Meaningless things, kind of like holiday clichés. Try to be more like a snowflake, striving for originality and freshness rather than beating that poor, tired horse again, even on the eve of Christmas.

The phrase “don’t be a turkey” might sound like harmless Thanksgiving banter, but it actually carries a deeper meaning. This expression, often used to describe someone acting foolishly or unwisely, has a rich history and various interpretations. Let’s delve into the origins and different contexts in which this phrase is used.

Etymology of “Turkey” as an Insult

The word “turkey” as an insult likely emerged in the early 20th century. Some theories suggest it originated from the association of turkeys with clumsiness and gullibility, traits often attributed to someone making a foolish decision. Others believe it stemmed from the bird’s association with Thanksgiving, a time when people tend to overindulge and act less than rational

Different Interpretations of “Don’t Be a Turkey”

The meaning of “don’t be a turkey” can vary depending on the context Here are some common interpretations:

  • Foolishness: This is the most common interpretation, implying that someone is acting unwisely or making a bad decision. For example, if someone invests in a risky venture, their friend might say, “Don’t be a turkey; that’s a terrible idea.”
  • Cowardice: In some cases, “turkey” can also mean “coward.” This usage is less common but might be used to describe someone who is afraid to take a risk or stand up for themselves.
  • Loser: “Turkey” can also be used to describe someone who is unsuccessful or has failed at something. For example, if someone loses a competition, their opponent might say, “You’re such a turkey!”
  • Ugly or Unattractive: In rare instances, “turkey” can also be used to describe someone who is unattractive or undesirable. However, this usage is considered offensive and should be avoided.

Examples of “Don’t Be a Turkey” in Use

Here are some examples of how “don’t be a turkey” might be used in everyday conversation:

  • “Don’t be a turkey and fall for that scam email.”
  • “He’s such a turkey for quitting his job without having another one lined up.”
  • “She’s been acting like a real turkey lately, making bad decisions and getting into trouble.”
  • “Don’t be a turkey and forget to RSVP for the party.”

“Don’t be a turkey” is a versatile phrase that can be used to describe a variety of foolish or unwise behaviors. While the exact meaning can vary depending on the context, it generally carries a negative connotation. So, the next time you hear someone say “don’t be a turkey,” remember that they’re probably not talking about the Thanksgiving bird!

Dont Be A Turkey


What does it mean when someone is being a turkey?

Slang. a person or thing of little appeal; dud; loser. a naive, stupid, or inept person.

What does the expression turkey mean?

While taking home a turkey is considered a brag-worthy feat, being called one is, in contrast, considered an insult. Today the term ‘talk turkey’ means to discuss something frankly and practically.

What does turkey mean spiritually?

We see turkeys as blessings because they are always giving. Native American spirituality holds them sacred which means they’re more than just animals; they’re signs of good things coming our way. By embodying turkey energy, we learn to care deeply for ourselves while also sharing with those around us.

Where did calling someone a turkey come from?

Cain’s novel Mildred Pierce (1943): “The beach … was studded with rocks and was therefore unsuitable to swimming. For all ordinary purposes it was simply a turkey.” Later, in the early 1950s, “turkey” became a slang word for a stupid or inept person.

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