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Talking Turkeys

Turkeys not only end up on dining room tables on Thanksgiving but turkeys also show up in the American language as well. In this week’s post we’ll look at the place of the turkey in American history, culture, language, and literature.

Turkeys on the ballot

As a young nation, America needed not only a flag but a national bird as well.  Some early Americans put this bird on the ballot for the national bird. Although turkeys took second place to the eagle, they still hold a special place in American culture. This native American bird became the meal of choice on special occasions such as Christmas and Thanksgiving because of their large size and the fact that sacrificing one comes with very little economic consequence. Unlike their distant-chicken cousins, they don’t produce any products such as eggs when alive.

Turkey Idioms

Various American idioms are associated with turkeys. “Talking turkey”, for example, means to discuss business in a very frank (honest) and direct way. “To go cold turkey” is to stop an addictive behavior without any preparation, perhaps because cold turkey meat can be served quickly without any preparation. Furthermore, if you call someone a “turkey”, it’s an insult. Turkeys are supposedly stupid, birds so “a turkey” is a stupid person or a failure.

Turkeys in Literature

Turkeys have featured in British and American literature. For example, the classic, Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, ends with Ebenezer Scrooge buying turkeys for the needy Cratchet family. The quintessential American author, Mark Twain, wrote a short piece about turkeys that is worth a read. It’s a short story that more advanced learners might enjoy.It’s called “Hunting the Deceitful Turkey.” As you read the story, try to answer the following questions:

  1. Why does the boy feel the turkey is deceitful?
  2. How were turkeys hunted?
  3. Did the boy ever manage to catch a turkey?
  4. At the end of the story, the boy enjoyed eating tomatoes. Why did he enjoy them so much?
  5. Did he eat many tomatoes after that? Why do you think?

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