Word of the Day


Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a large bird similar to a chicken that has no feathers on its head and neck, and is often eaten at Christmas and Thanksgiving

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The name of the turkey is surrounded by confusion. The name originally referred to the guinea fowl, a medium-sized bird from Africa that was sometimes called a turkie or turkey because it was imported via Turkish territories. When European travellers first saw turkeys in Mexico in the early 16th century, they confused them with the familiar turkey (ie guinea fowl) and the name stuck even after the species were differentiated. The word was first used in English with the current meaning in the mid 16th century.


Today is Thanksgiving in the US (the Canadian holiday falls in October) and the tables of many will be graced by a roast turkey with all the trimmings. Turkeys are related to pheasants, partridges, grouse and chickens, and are native to the Americas including Canada, the US and Mexico. The word turkey has a few extended meanings and occurs in some fixed phrases. In the world of entertainment, a turkey is an extremely unsuccessful film or play; in American English it can also refer to a stupid person. A turkey shoot is a situation in which one party in a conflict or competition is much stronger than the other. To talk turkey is to discuss something seriously, while someone who goes cold turkey stops taking a drug they are addicted to, suddenly and completely. Turkey is commonly eaten at Christmas as well as Thanksgiving, hence the idiomatic expression like turkeys voting for Christmas to describe people who act against their own interests with catastrophic consequences.


“What a marvelous resource soup is for the thrifty cook – it solves the ham-bone and lamb-bone problems, the everlasting Thanksgiving turkey, the extra vegetables.”
(Julia Child)

“Although I am small, ugly and dirty, I am highly ambitious, and at the slightest flattery, I immediately start to strut like a turkey.
(Italo Calvino, Letters, 1941-1985)

Related words

chicken, duck, goose, guinea fowl

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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