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130886.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 7:43 pm Reply with quote

The fame of the importing of turkeys from Norfolk into the New World, courtesy of the Pilgrim Fathers, has spread - somebody quoted it on a Guardian talkboard thread today.

However, there are other interesting things about the turkey. When the fledgling USA chose the bald eagle as its symbol, some people commented that the drawing looked more like a turkey, and Benjamin Franklin wrote:

I am on this account, not displeas'd that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turk'y. For in Truth the Turk'y is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.... He is, (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that,) a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards, who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

The Spaniards described turkeys as a type of peacock after they were introduced there. Nobody knows exactly who, but it may have been Columbus, because as early as 1519 King Ferdinand instructed every Spanish ship returning from the New World to bring back ten turkeys:
"half males, and the other half females ...because I desire that there be bred here some cocks and hens of those which you have there and were brought from Tierra Firme."

130888.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 7:46 pm Reply with quote

Turkeys belong to the pheasant family, and there are two wild species. One is agriocharis ocellata, native to Yucatan and Guatemala. The other is the ancestor of our own dear Christmas dinner, meleagris gallopova, which ranges between southeastern Canada to Mexico.

130890.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 7:47 pm Reply with quote

Wild turkeys can fly at 55 mph or run at 30mph in short bursts.

130892.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 7:49 pm Reply with quote

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the biggest-ever turkey weighed eighty-six pounds. I make that 19 hours cooking, if we allow 20 minutes to the pound and 20 minutes over. I suggest covering the breast with foil to prevent the meat drying out.

130895.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 7:58 pm Reply with quote

There is a myth that turkeys are so stupid that when it rains they look up at the sky and continue looking straight up into the rain until their nostrils fill with water and they drown.

Snopes dismisses this as 'false', because it is based upon a couple of false premises for the following reasons:

Turkeys do not look up in order to "see" rain. Like most birds, they do not have binocular vision because they have eyes set on opposite sides of their heads, a feature which gives them a greater field of vision and thus enables them more effectively spot potential predators. Even if a turkey tilted its head back, it would still be looking sideways, not up. If it were trying to look upwards, it would tilt its head sideways.

The notion that turkeys would be fascinated by something as mundane as rain is an anthropomorphization. Turkeys react to such a phenomenon by ignoring it (if they don't mind it) or seeking shelter if they do.

However, domesticated turkeys lack the survival skills of wild ones, and are also raised indoors for the first few weeks of their lives. They are therefore more likely to be panicked by something like a rainstorm, and not react in a way that will protect them from it.

130896.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 7:59 pm Reply with quote

North American Indian tribes regarded the turkey as a powerful spiritual symbol. They prized its breast feathers as an alternative to goose down for warm winter cloaks. Southwestern tribes, believing the turkey to be the guide that ushered the dead into the next world, buried their loved ones in turkey-feather robes.

130897.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 8:04 pm Reply with quote

William Strickland of East Yorkshire introduced the turkey to England in 1520 visiting the New World with John Cabot. When he was granted arms, his family crest bore a heraldic "turkey-bird in his pride proper."

By 1570, turkey was part of England's Christmas celebrations, according to Thomas Tusser's 1570 Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry. Farmers from Norfolk would drive their thousand-strong turkey flocks to market in London on foot, reportedly creating the first traffic jams on the streets of the English capital.

130900.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 8:09 pm Reply with quote

Possibly due to Columbus's confusion about the geography of the world and his conviction that the New World was close to India, there was some confusion about the origin of turkeys, and different European nations attributed it to different countries. The French term coq d'Inde eventually became shortened to dinde, the French for turkey.

When the 18th century Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus tried to classify the turkey and its relatives in the natural scheme of things, he was apparently also confused. His Latin name meleagris gallopova contains three birds. Meleagris is a guinea fowl, gallus is a chicken, and pova is a peacock.

130901.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 8:10 pm Reply with quote

Information in the above posts sourced from and

130904.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 8:36 pm Reply with quote

Turkeys have great hearing skills but no ears, apparently.

130929.  Tue Jan 02, 2007 10:39 pm Reply with quote

Excellent stuff, Jenny.


130963.  Wed Jan 03, 2007 5:17 am Reply with quote

It's like the great QI turkey elf came and put a huge pile of presents under our interesting tree in the middle of the night.

131012.  Wed Jan 03, 2007 7:48 am Reply with quote

A quick turkey fact gleaned from perusal of a sachet of cat food ...

It was noted on the show that only in English do we name the animal after Turkey. This seems to be correct, with the possible exception of Italian - they call the animal tacchino. I'm not certain of the etymology of this word, but it looks as if it could be related to Turkey.

Many other countries name it for India in some way - eg the French dinde and the Turkish hindi.

The Hindi for the creature is Peru pakshi - Peru bird. This too was mentioned on the show, but what wasn't mentioned is that the Portuguese for it is also peru. (This is what I gleaned from the cat food, which carries flavour identification in several languages.)

More than you could ever want to know about what different languages call this creature at:

135918.  Thu Jan 18, 2007 10:06 am Reply with quote

Hi Jenny and Suze. The web link you list was my main source for the name stuff on the show. Here's the research note in full. if nothing else, it gives you some idea of how much Stephen has to juggle...


Turkey boots
From the late 16th century, English turkeys walked the hundred miles from Norfolk to Leadenhall market in London each year. The journey would take three months and the birds wore special leather boots to protect their feet. Geese wouldn't allow themselves to be shod (hence the phrase 'to shoe a goose' for something difficult) so had their feet dipped in tar and covered with sand. Pigs wore knitted boots with leather soles, and blacksmiths nailed metal plates on to the hooves of cattle. A flock of 1,000 turkeys could be managed by 2 drovers carrying long wands of willow or hazel with red cloth tied on the ends. Turkeys move at about one mile an hour - quicker than geese - but they insisted on roosting at night, so the whole journey took longer. Traffic jams were caused by the vast flocks entering London from East Anglia, Norfolk, and Suffolk in the weeks before Christmas. In America, turkey drives rivalled some of the cattle drives: there are records of an 1863 drive from Iowa to Denver (600 miles) and flocks of 20,000 were common.

Ironically, despite being native to North America, the domesticated turkeys that graced the tables of the Pilgrim Father's first Thanksgiving dinner in 1620 had travelled out with them on the Mayflower from England.

Turkeys first reached Europe in the 1520s, brought back from their native Mexico to Spain and distributed throughout the Mediterranean by Turkish merchants. They were a hit, and quickly became a favourite food for the richer classes. As early as 1585, turkey had become a Christmas tradition in England. Then, as now, the flat, fertile plains of Norfolk, grew the best birds and breeders set to work to produce a heavier breasted, more docile version of the wild bird. The Norfolk Black and the White Holland were both English breeds re-introduced to America, and most domestic turkey now consumed in the USA derives from these two breeds..

Origins of the word ‘turkey’
Turkeys have nothing to do with Turkey. They were called 'Turkie cocks' in England because the traders who supplied them were Turkish. (Maize, also originally from Mexico, was once called 'turkie corn' for the same reason). There is something odd about how turkeys tend to be named after other countries, particularly India. No one knows why the turkey was thought to be Indian but it might be because the Spanish returned with it from the 'Indies' (as America was called).

The French word for a turkey, dinde, is a corruption of d’Inde, ‘from India’. Polish (indyk), Hebrew (Tarngol Hodu ‘Indian fowl’), Dutch (Kalkoen ‘Calcutta hen’) and the Austrians (who call a turkey an Indian) take a similar line – as do the Turks, who call a turkey a hindi. In Hindi, though, a turkey is Peru Pakshi (‘Peru bird’). Turkeys were brought to India by the Portuguese, who also call a turkey a peru. The Japanese and the Arabs have other ideas: a Japanese turkey is karakuncho ('Tang Dynasty Country – i.e. Chinese – Bird') and an Arabic one is Deek Rumi ('Roman or Romanian fowl') or, sometimes, Ethiopian Bird. Coming full circle, the Greeks call a turkey galapoula, 'French bird'.

The Native American word for turkey was furkee according to the Pilgrim fathers, although no one seems to know which Algonquin language it comes from. In Choctaw, rather amusingly, the word is fakit , based on the sound the bird makes, although this has been replaced by akank chaaha ('tall chicken') to avoid embarrassment. Even science seemed unsure what to call the turkey. The Latin Meleagris gallopavo translates literally as the 'guinea-fowl chicken-peacock', a bit of linguistic spread-betting. A male turkey is called a stag, gobbler or tom. The female is always a hen.Turkeys are the largest creatures able to give birth without sex: the offspring of such virgin births are male. Most languages write the turkey''s gobble as glu glu or kruk, kruk. In Hebrew, however, they go mekarkerim.

It turns out that komodo dragons are also able to give birth parthenogenetically, so a retraction may be in order, as they can weigh up to 200lbs.,,2-2513322,00.html

136627.  Fri Jan 19, 2007 7:29 pm Reply with quote

My favorite version


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