Turkey’s Turkey is India
he Aztecs introduced a lot of new food to the Europeans, and their language, called Nahuatl, provided the names that most other languages adopted for these foods as they spread around the globe. For example, the Nahuatl word for chocolate is “xocolatl” (sho-ko-la-tul), and this is the source of the word for chocolate in almost all other languages outside of the Americas, from Hungarian (csokoládé) to Vietnamese (sôcôla) to Zulu (ushokoledi) to Welsh (siocled). Another Aztec product, the tomato, is called “tomatl” (green tomato) and “xitomatl” (red tomato) in Nahuatl. Spanish used this for its word “tomate”, and it spread to English and many other languages. But “tomatl” was not as universally adopted as “xocolatl”, and some languages decided to just make up their own word, such as “golden apple” (“pomodoro” in Italian) or “barbarian eggplant” (“番茄” in Chinese). The Aztecs are also believed to be the first people to domesticate the turkey, but in this case, the generic Nahuatl word for turkey totolin didn’t catch on at all. A Nahuatl word for a male turkey — “huexolotl” — did make it into Spanish as guajolote (pronounced “gwa-ho-lo-te”) but this word is really only used in Mexico. In the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, they call the turkey pavo which originally meant a peacock — likely the conquistadors thought there was a resemblance between the two birds. Via Spain, the turkey made its way through Europe, and when the English first encountered it, they thought it looked just like what is today called a guineafowl — a wild African partridge that England used to import from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. This is the usual explanation for why English calls the bird a “turkey”. Portuguese gets a little closer to the mark, calling the turkey peru after the country Peru. Peru back then was part of the Spanish empire, conquered from the Incans, who ate fish and the occasional llama meat but not turkey. A surprisingly wide number of languages named the turkey after India, maybe because of the same geographic confusion that created the name “American Indian” in English. In French, for example, a turkey is dinde which comes from the French phrase “from India” (d’Inde), while Russian uses индюк or “ind’yook”, which has the same meaning. And Turkey also calls the turkey “India”, which in Turkish is hindi And what does India call it? The Hindi language, for its part, follows the Portuguese and calls it a “Peru bird” though in the southern Indian language of Tamil it’s a “great hen” But turkeys aren’t just about India, Turkey and Mexico. Arabic, for example, calls the turkey a “Roman chicken”  while in Greek, it’s a “French chicken” γαλοπούλα And in languages spoken far from Europe and the Americas, the names are more mysterious. The Chinese word for turkey is “fire chicken” 火鸡 and in Swahili, it’s bata mzinga which can be translated as “mighty duck”. The name used in both Korean and Japanese for the turkey is the “seven- face bird” 七面鳥 with some sources saying this is because a turkey’s head and neck changes to seven different colors when it gets angry or excited, and others saying it refers to seven rings on a turkey’s neck. And in the case of Farsi/Persian, they went with their approximation of the sound of a turkey gobbling: “Boogulamoon”
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The humble turkey, tethered to a post (from a Mayan drawing)
Turkey’s Turkey is India
he Aztecs introduced a lot of new food to the Europeans, and their language, called Nahuatl, provided the names that most other languages adopted for these foods as they spread around the globe. For example, the Nahuatl word for chocolate is “xocolatl” (sho-ko-la-tul), and this is the source of the word for chocolate in almost all other languages outside of the Americas, from Hungarian (csokoládé) to Vietnamese (sôcôla) to Zulu (ushokoledi) to Welsh (siocled). Another Aztec product, the tomato, is called “tomatl” (green tomato) and “xitomatl” (red tomato) in Nahuatl. Spanish used this for its word “tomate”, and it spread to English and many other languages. But “tomatl” was not as universally adopted as “xocolatl”, and some languages decided to just make up their own word, such as “golden apple” (“pomodoro” in Italian) or “barbarian eggplant” (“番茄” in Chinese). The Aztecs are also believed to be the first people to domesticate the turkey, but in this case, the generic Nahuatl word for turkey totolin didn’t catch on at all. A Nahuatl word for a male turkey — “huexolotl” — did make it into Spanish as guajolote (pronounced “gwa-ho-lo-te”) but this word is really only used in Mexico. In the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, they call the turkey pavo which originally meant a peacock — likely the conquistadors thought there was a resemblance between the two birds. Via Spain, the turkey made its way through Europe, and when the English first encountered it, they thought it looked just like what is today called a guineafowl — a wild African partridge that England used to import from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. This is the usual explanation for why English calls the bird a “turkey”. Portuguese gets a little closer to the mark, calling the turkey peru after the country Peru. Peru back then was part of the Spanish empire, conquered from the Incans, who ate fish and the occasional llama meat but not turkey. A surprisingly wide number of languages named the turkey after India, maybe because of the same geographic confusion that created the name “American Indian” in English. In French, for example, a turkey is dinde which comes from the French phrase “from India” (d’Inde), while Russian uses индюк or “ind’yook”, which has the same meaning. And Turkey also calls the turkey “India”, which in Turkish is hindi And what does India call it? The Hindi language, for its part, follows the Portuguese and calls it a “Peru bird” though in the southern Indian language of Tamil it’s a “great hen” But turkeys aren’t just about India, Turkey and Mexico. Arabic, for example, calls the turkey a “Roman chicken”  while in Greek, it’s a “French chicken” γαλοπούλα And in languages spoken far from Europe and the Americas, the names are more mysterious. The Chinese word for turkey is “fire chicken” 火鸡 and in Swahili, it’s bata mzinga which can be translated as “mighty duck”. The name used in both Korean and Japanese for the turkey is the “seven-face bird” 七面鳥 with some sources saying this is because a turkey’s head and neck changes to seven different colors when it gets angry or excited, and others saying it refers to seven rings on a turkey’s neck. And in the case of Farsi/Persian, they went with their approximation of the sound of a turkey gobbling: “Boogulamoon”
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The humble turkey, tethered to a post (from a Mayan drawing)