American as Apple Pie


The wild turkey is native to North America and is a true American icon. Domesticat­ion began 2,000 years ago by Native Americans who, very much like now, penned them and used their meat, feathers and bones. For those lucky enough to have wild turkeys visiting the bird feeders in the backyard, you’ll know that the process of domesticat­ion must have been relatively simple! They are big, curious birds with a hearty appetite and soon get tame.

All the different breeds, with their dazzling array of colors and feather patterns, found around the world today are descended from the wild birds that fortunatel­y still roam the forests of North America. So, if it’s so American, why is it called a turkey?

Linguist Mario Pei puts forward an interestin­g idea to explain the bird’s name. He proposes that the first turkeys imported to England came not from North America but via merchant ships from the East. The importers lent their name to these birds, so they became known as turkey cocks/turkey hens — and the name subsequent­ly stuck — the usage becoming widespread.

Author Layla Eplett writes in “Talkin’ ‘Turkey:’ The Linguistic Link Between the Bird and the Country,” a blog for Scientific American, that Pei thinks during the 15th and 16th centuries, the bird’s arrival in Great Britain came via Turkish merchants in Constantin­ople, who had orignally imported the birds from America. “The British had a lackadaisi­cal habit of naming things after where they arrived from, rather than the place they originated,” she writes. Read more at

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