HomeBEYOND TURKEYEtymology in English for Turk, Turkey

Etymology in English for Turk, Turkey

Photograph © Levent Ağaoğlu

Turk (n.)
c. 1300, from French Turc, from Medieval Latin Turcus, from Byzantine Greek Tourkos, Persian turk, a national name, of unknown origin. Said to mean “strength” in Turkish. Compare Chinese tu-kin, recorded from c. 177 B.C.E. as the name of a people living south of the Altai Mountains (identified by some with the Huns). In Persian, turk, in addition to the national name, also could mean “a beautiful youth,” “a barbarian,” “a robber.”

In English, the Ottoman sultan was the Grand Turk (late 15c.), and the Turk was used collectively for the Turkish people or for Ottoman power (late 15c.). From 14c. and especially 16c.-18c. Turk could mean “a Muslim,” reflecting the Turkish political power’s status in the Western mind as the Muslim nation par excellence. Hence Turkery “Islam” (1580s); turn Turk “convert to Islam.”

Meaning “person of Irish descent” is first recorded 1914 in U.S., apparently originating among Irish-Americans; of unknown origin (Irish torc “boar, hog” has been suggested). Young Turk (1908) was a member of an early 20c. political group in the Ottoman Empire that sought rejuvenation of the Turkish nation. Turkish bath is attested from 1640s; Turkish delight from 1877.

Turkophile
also Turcophile, 1876, from combining form of Turk + -phile.

Turkoman
also Turcoman, c. 1600, from Medieval Latin Turcomannus, from Persian Turkman, literally “Turk-like,” from Turk + -man “like.”

Turkish (adj.)
1540s, from Turk (n.) + -ish. As a noun, “the Turkish language,” from 1718.

turkey (n.)
1540s, originally “guinea fowl” (Numida meleagris), a bird imported from Madagascar via Turkey, and called guinea fowl when brought by Portuguese traders from West Africa. The larger North American bird (Meleagris gallopavo) was domesticated by the Aztecs, introduced to Spain by conquistadors (1523) and thence to wider Europe. The word turkey first was applied to it in English 1550s because it was identified with or treated as a species of the guinea fowl, and/or because it got to the rest of Europe from Spain by way of North Africa, then under Ottoman (Turkish) rule. Indian corn was originally turkey corn or turkey wheat in English for the same reason.

The Turkish name for it is hindi, literally “Indian,” probably influenced by French dinde (c. 1600, contracted from poulet d’inde, literally “chicken from India,” Modern French dindon), based on the then-common misconception that the New World was eastern Asia.

After the two birds were distinguished and the names differentiated, turkey was erroneously retained for the American bird, instead of the African. From the same imperfect knowledge and confusion Melagris, the ancient name of the African fowl, was unfortunately adopted by Linnæus as the generic name of the American bird. [OED]
The New World bird itself reputedly reached England by 1524 at the earliest estimate, though a date in the 1530s seems more likely. The wild turkey, the North American form of the bird, was so called from 1610s. By 1575, turkey was becoming the usual main course at an English Christmas. Meaning “inferior show, failure,” is 1927 in show business slang, probably from the bird’s reputation for stupidity. Meaning “stupid, ineffectual person” is recorded from 1951. Turkey shoot “something easy” is World War II-era, in reference to marksmanship contests where turkeys were tied behind a log with their heads showing as targets. To talk turkey (1824) supposedly comes from an old tale of a Yankee attempting to swindle an Indian in dividing up a turkey and a buzzard as food.

Turkey
country name, late 14c., from Medieval Latin Turchia, from Turcus (see Turk) + -ia.

Osmanli
1792, “an Ottoman Turk,” especially a member of the ruling dynasty; as an adjective by 1829, “relating to the empire of Turkey,” from Turkish Osmanli “of or pertaining to Osman,” founder of the Ottoman dynasty (he reigned 1259-1326); his name is the Turkish pronunciation of Arabic Uthman. This is the native word where English generally uses Ottoman. In early use as a noun in English often mistakenly regarded as a plural.

Johnny
pet form of masc. proper name John, with -y (3). Used as a contemptuous or humorous designation for some class or group of men from 1670s.

It was the typical name in the North and the Northern armies for a Confederate soldier during the American Civil War, and the Southern soldiers were, collectively Johnnies, generically Johnny Reb. In the Mediterranean, it was a typical name for an Englishman by c. 1800. In the Crimean War it became the typical name among the English for “a Turk” (also Johnny Turk), later it was extended to Arabs; by World War II the Arabs were using Johnny as the typical name for “a British man”). Johnny Crapaud as a derogatory generic name for a Frenchman or France is from 1818.

Johnny-come-lately “a new arrival” first attested 1839. Johnny-on-the-spot is from 1896. Johnny-jump-up as an American English name for the pansy is from 1837. Johnny-cocks, a colloquial name for the early purple orchid (Orchis mascula) is attested from 1883.

turkey-vulture (n.)
1823, from turkey + vulture. From 1670s as turkey-buzzard.

cold turkey
“without preparation,” 1910; narrower sense of “withdrawal from an addictive substance” (originally heroin) first recorded 1921. Cold turkey is a food that requires little preparation, so “to quit like cold turkey” is to do so suddenly and without preparation. Compare cold shoulder. To do something cold “without preparation” is attested from 1896.

turkey (n.)
1540s, originally “guinea fowl” (Numida meleagris), a bird imported from Madagascar via Turkey, and called guinea fowl when brought by Portuguese traders from West Africa. The larger North American bird (Meleagris gallopavo) was domesticated by the Aztecs, introduced to Spain by conquistadors (1523) and thence to wider Europe. The word turkey first was applied to it in English 1550s because it was identified with or treated as a species of the guinea fowl, and/or because it got to the rest of Europe from Spain by way of North Africa, then under Ottoman (Turkish) rule. Indian corn was originally turkey corn or turkey wheat in English for the same reason.

The Turkish name for it is hindi, literally “Indian,” probably influenced by French dinde (c. 1600, contracted from poulet d’inde, literally “chicken from India,” Modern French dindon), based on the then-common misconception that the New World was eastern Asia.

After the two birds were distinguished and the names differentiated, turkey was erroneously retained for the American bird, instead of the African. From the same imperfect knowledge and confusion Melagris, the ancient name of the African fowl, was unfortunately adopted by Linnæus as the generic name of the American bird. [OED]
The New World bird itself reputedly reached England by 1524 at the earliest estimate, though a date in the 1530s seems more likely. The wild turkey, the North American form of the bird, was so called from 1610s. By 1575, turkey was becoming the usual main course at an English Christmas. Meaning “inferior show, failure,” is 1927 in show business slang, probably from the bird’s reputation for stupidity. Meaning “stupid, ineffectual person” is recorded from 1951. Turkey shoot “something easy” is World War II-era, in reference to marksmanship contests where turkeys were tied behind a log with their heads showing as targets. To talk turkey (1824) supposedly comes from an old tale of a Yankee attempting to swindle an Indian in dividing up a turkey and a buzzard as food.

Source: https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=turk

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