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Managing editor and logophile Andy Hollandbeck reveals the sometimes surprising roots of common English words and phrases. Remember: Etymology tells us where a word comes from, but not what it means today.
As you prepare to gather with family and friends next Thursday for Thanksgiving, we offer some pertinent questions (and answers) you can use to help avoid talking about politics over dinner: Why do a bird native to North America and a country in the Middle East have the same name? Are they related somehow? And which came first?
The short answer is yes, the words are related, but the story of their shared etymological history is a complex convolution involving international trade, exploration, and laziness.
Probably sometime during the 15th century, before Columbus set sail, Western Europe was introduced to what today we call the guinea hen, so named because it originated in Guinea on the west coast of Africa. There is some debate about exactly what route the guinea hen took to find its way into Western cuisine: did it come from Turkish traders in Constantinople, a commercial center of the then-growing Ottoman Empire; from Turkish traders on Madagascar; or from the Mamluk Turks of Ethiopia?
No one is entirely sure, but regardless of how the guinea hen entered Europe, it was known in English as the turkey-hen. At the time, the Ottoman Empire was also commonly called the Turkish Empire or just Turkey, and turkey had became a generic word — derived from a Medieval Latin phrase meaning “land of the Turks” — that was used to describe practically anything imported from the “exotic East” through Turkish merchants. Persian rugs, for instance, were called turkey rugs, and Indian flour was called turkey flour.
Fast-forward to the 1500s and the European exploration of the New World. Among the new wildlife these explorers and settlers found was a native bird that, with its fleshy, multicolored head and wrinkled wattle, resembled the turkey-hens they knew back home, though the American fowl were noticeably larger.
Those American turkeys were then brought back to Europe during the mid-16th century — some say by Spanish conquistadors, others by the Portuguese — and, because of their resemblance to the guinea fowl, were also called turkey-hens, or just turkeys. Over time, those American turkeys became the more popular poultry, especially in England, and the name turkey stuck with the bird in a way it didn’t with the guinea hen.
So, through an underdeveloped nomenclature system and a lack of scientific rigor, the bird’s name is ultimately derived from an adjective meant to describe exotic items traded from the East. That’s also where the modern country gets its name.
From the 16th through the 19th centuries, much of what we know today as the Middle East was part of the Ottoman Empire, which, as I said before, was also casually referred to as Turkey. Following the end of World War I in 1918, its capital, Constantinople, was occupied by Allied troops, and through various treaties and agreements, the lands of the once massive empire were repartitioned.
A group of Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, rose up in opposition to the repartition and fought what would be known as the Turkish War for Independence. In 1923, with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, a new country was officially recognized by members of the young League of Nations. Influenced by European usage, it was called Türkiye Cumhuriyeti — the Republic of Turkey.
People have always loved my grandfather’s painting, Freedom from Want, which first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post — it’s been celebrated and even lampooned many times. It is a painting about connection and the celebration of that connection.
No one is looking at the turkey or the grandmother and grandfather, and no one is praying or giving thanks — it’s what I call the “happy error” of the painting. Norman Rockwell was all about faces and interactions; if he painted everyone looking down and praying or looking back toward the grandparents and the turkey, you wouldn’t be able to see any of their faces.
Everyone is connecting with someone — the woman on the left is my grandmother Mary, who is conversing with the attractive woman across the table. The old woman is my great-grandmother, Pop’s mother, and she’s looking at Mary. The two men are interacting in the middle of the table (you just can’t see the one man’s face). The grandparents have a lovely, quiet, unspoken connection — the grandfather is clearly there to support her if the turkey gets too heavy. The man looking out at us is there to bring us into the moment, to invite us in.
The act of setting the turkey on the table brings movement into the painting. You can almost hear the lively exchanges at the table. And who is at the other end of the table? I can almost feel Pop’s presence there.
Enjoy your time with your family. In the end, that is what holidays are about. It’s not about getting the turkey with all its trimmings just right, its not about creating the perfect tablescape. It’s about family coming together to celebrate the simplest things — love and gratitude.
P.S. Pop always felt he had made the turkey too big. He also used to joke that the turkey was the only model he ever ate!
If you’d like to read the original article as a PDF, download it here.
Related stories: “Turkey in Transition” by Isaac F. Marcosson, November 10, 1923, and “The Eastern Mess” by George Pattulo, December 23, 1922.
October 20, 1923
by Isaac F. Marcosson
THERE was a time when Angora was famous solely for cats and goats. Today the shambling, time-worn town far up in the Anatolian hills has another, and world-wide significance. It is not only the capital of the reconstructed Turkish Government and the seat therefore of the most picturesque of all contemporary experiments in democracy, but is likewise the home of Ghazi Mustapha Kemal Pasha—to give him his full title—who is distinct among the few vital personalities revealed by the bitter backwash of the World War.
Only Lenin and Mussolini vie with him for the center of that narrowing stage of compelling leadership. Each of these three remarkable men has achieved a definite result in a manner all his own. Lenin imposed an autocracy through force and blood. Mussolini created a personal and political dictatorship in which he dramatized himself. Kemal not only led a beaten nation to victory and dictated terms to the one-time conqueror, but set up a new and unique system of administration.
Lenin and Mussolini have almost been done to death by human or, in the case of the soviet overlord, inhuman interest historians. Kemal Pasha is still invested with an element of mystery and aloofness largely begot of the physical inaccessibility of his position. To the average American, he is merely a Turkish name vaguely associated with some kind of military achievement. The British Dardanelles Expedition know it much better, for he frustrated the fruits of that immense heroism written in blood and agony on the shores of Gallipoli. The Greeks have an even costlier knowledge, because he was the organizer of the victory that literally drove them into the sea in one of the most complete debacles of modern times.
At Angora I talked with this man in a critical hour of the war-born Turkish Government. The Lausanne Conference was at the breaking point. War or peace still hung in the balance. Only the day before, Rauf Bey, the Prime Minister, had said to me: “If they [the Allies] want war they can have it.” The air was charged with tension and uncertainty. Over the troubled scene brooded the unrelenting presence of the chieftain I had traveled so far to see. Events, like the government itself, revolved about him.
In difficulty of approach and in the grim and dramatic quality of the setting, Anatolia was strongly reminiscent of my journey a year ago to the Southern Chinese front to see Sun Yat-sen. Between him and Kemal exists a certain similarity. Each is a sort of inspired leader. Each has his kindling ideal of a self-determination that is the by-product of fallen empire. Here the parallel ends. Kemal is the man of blood and iron—an orientalized Bismarck, as it were—dogged, ruthless, invincible; while Sun Yat-sen is the dreamer and visionary, eternal pawn of chance, and with as many political existences—and I might add, governments—as the proverbial cat has lives.
Turkey for the Turks
As with men, so with the peoples behind them. You have another striking contrast. While China flounders in well-nigh incredible political chaos, due to incessant conflict of selfish purpose and lack of leadership, Turkey has emerged as a homogeneous nation for the first time in its long and bloody history, with defined frontiers, a real homeland, and a nationalistic aim that may shape the destiny of the Mohammedan world, and incidentally affect American commercial aspirations in the Near East. “Turkey for the Turks” is the new slogan. The instrument and inspiration of the whole astonishing evolution—it is little less than a miracle when you realize that in 1919 Turkey was as prostrate as defeat and bankruptcy could bring her—has been Kemal Pasha.
He was the real objective of my trip to Turkey. Constantinople with its gleaming mosques and minarets, and still a queen among cities despite its dingy magnificence, had its lure, but from the hour of my arrival on the shores of the Golden Horn my interest was centered on Angora.
I had chosen a difficult time for the realization of this ambition. The Lausanne Conference was apparently mired, and the long-awaited peace seemed more distant than ever. A state of war still existed. The army of occupation gave the streets martial tone and color, while a vast Allied fleet rode at anchor in the Bosporus or boomed at target practice in the Sea of Marmora. The capital in the Anatolian hills had become even more inaccessible.
Every barrier based on suspicion, aloofness and general resentment of the foreigner—the usual Turkish trilogy— all tied up with endless red tape, worked overtime. It was a combination disastrous to swift American action. My subsequent experiences emphasized the truth of the well-known Kipling story which dealt with the fate of an energetic Yankee in the Orient whose epitaph read: “Here lies a fool who tried to hustle the East.”
To add to all this handicap begot of temperament and otherwise, the Turks had begun to realize, not without irritation, that the consummation of the Chester Concession was not so easy as it looked on paper. The last civilian who successfully applied for permission to go to Angora had been compelled to linger at Constantinople seven weeks before he got his vessica—as a visa is called in Turkish. Two or three others had departed for home in disgust after four weeks of watchful and fruitless waiting. The prospect was not promising.
When I paid my respects to Rear Admiral Mark L. Bristol, the American High Commissioner, on my first day in Constantinople, I invoked his aid in getting to Angora. He promptly gave me a letter of introduction to Dr. Adnan Bey, then the principal representative of Angora in Constantinople, through whom all permits had to pass.
I went to see him at the famous Sublime Porte, the Foreign Office and the scene of so much sinister Turkish history. Here the sordid tools of Abdul-Hamid, the Red Sultan, and others no less unscrupulous, lived their day. I expected to find the structure almost as imposing as its richer mate in history, the Mosque of St. Sophia. It proved to be a dirty, rambling, yellow building without the slightest semblance of architectural beauty, and strongly in need of disinfecting.
In Adnan Bey I found my first Turkish ally. Moreover, I discovered him to be a man of the world with a broad and generous outlook. An early aid of Kemal in the precarious days of the nationalist movement, he became the first vice president of the Angora Government. Moreover, he had another claim to fame, for he is the husband of the renowned Halide Hanum, the foremost woman reformer of Turkey, whom I was later to meet in interesting circumstances at Munich, and whose story will be disclosed in a subsequent article. Adnan Bey, however, is not what we would call a professional husband in America. Long before he rallied to the Kemalist cause he was widely known as one of the ablest physicians in Turkey.
He at once sent a telegram to Angora asking for my permission to go. This permission is concretely embodied in a pass—the aforesaid vessica—which is issued by the Constantinople prefect of police. Back in the days of the Great War it was a difficult procedure to get the so-called white pass which enabled the holder to go to the front. Compared with the coveted permission to visit Angora, that pass was about as inaccessible as a public handbill, as I was now to discover.
Adnan Bey told me that he would have an answer from Angora in about three days. I found that three days was like the Russian word seichas which technically means “immediately” but when employed in action or rather lack of action on its own ground, usually spells “next month.”
After a week passed, the American Embassy inquired of the Sublime Porte if they had heard about my application, but no word had come. A few days later Turkish officialdom went mad. An order was promulgated that no alien except of British, French or Italian nationality could enter or leave Constantinople without the consent of Angora. People who had left Paris or London, and they included various Americans, with existing credentials, were held up at the Turkish frontier, despite the fact that the order had been issued after they had started. Thanks to Admiral Bristol’s prompt and persistent endeavors, the frontier ban was lifted from Americans. Angora became swamped overnight with telegraphic protests and requests, and I felt that mine was completely lost in the new and growing shuffle.
Meanwhile I had acquired a fine upstanding young Turk, Reschad Bey by name, who spoke English, French and German fluently, as dragoman, which means courier and interpreter. No alien can go to Angora without such an aid, because, save in a few isolated spots, the only language spoken in Anatolia is Turkish. Reschad Bey was really an inheritance from Robert Imbrie, who had just retired after a year as American consul at Angora. Reschad Bey had been his interpreter. Much contact with Imbrie had acquainted him with American ways and he thoroughly sympathized with my impatience over the delay. He had a strong pull at Angora himself and sent some telegrams to friends in my behalf.
At the expiration of the second week Admiral Bristol made a personal appeal to Adnan Bey to expedite my permission, and a second strong telegram went from the Sublime Porte to Angora. Other Turkish and American individuals whom I had met added their requests by wire. Of course I was occupied with other work, but I had only a limited amount of time at my disposal and when all was said and done, Kemal was the principal prize of the trip and I was determined to land him. Early in July therefore I sent Reschad Bey to Angora to find out just what the situation was. He departed on the morning of the Fourth. When I returned to my hotel from attending the Independence Day celebration at the embassy I found a telegram from Angora addressed to Reschad Bey in my care from one of his friends in the government, saying that my permission to go to Angora had been wired nine days before! Yet on the previous morning the Sublime Porte had declared that Angora was still silent on my request.
It isn’t just the farmers and poultry truck drivers who have a hard time handling turkeys. Sometimes the big birds were a handful for our cover artists and models. Why did one famous cover artist start “to feel like an assassin”?
Turkey Loose Atop Truck by Constantin Alajalov
“When I wanted to sketch turkeys as they look in a crate,” said cover artist Constantin Alajalov, “I found a wholesaler who sells a lot of them. For the turkey on the lam…he said, ‘Take your pick’. Every time I started to sketch a model, somebody bought it and bang, it was a dead bird. I began to feel like an assassin.” Our artist got the delightful Thanksgiving cover done, but said, “For Thanksgiving I may skip turkey…and have hamburger that I’m sure I don’t know, socially.”
Squawking Turkey by Tony Sarg
This youngster managed to catch the turkey, but now what? The boy with arms full of squawking fowl is from 1915.
Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey by Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell painted a lad he called Cousin Reginald, a city slicker. As we’ve shown you before, his mischief-loving country cousins often made a fool of Reginald. Now, we just know those rural boys told Reggie that catching the turkey would be a breeze. They are in the background being royally entertained.
Where’s That Turkey? by Wm. Meade Prince
This is no dumb Tom Turkey. When someone with an ax is looking for you, hiding is a good option. This colorful cover was painted for the Post’s sister publication, Country Gentleman by artist William Mead Prince.
Pilgrim Stalking Tom Turkey by J.C. Leyendecker
Would you believe this beautiful cover is from 1907? Artist J.C. Leyendecker did much more than paint ridiculously handsome men for Arrow Shirt ads. He did more Saturday Evening Post covers than any other artist. One of the earliest, and smartest, acts of George Horace Lorimer after taking charge of the Post was to hire J.C. Leyendecker to do a cover in 1899. Between then and 1943, Leyendecker did 322 Post covers, one more than Norman Rockwell. To honor his mentor, Rockwell chose to do one fewer cover.
Thanksgiving by J.F. Kernan
There’s an old myth that if you sprinkle salt on a turkey’s tail, you can catch it. Also, if you sprinkle pepper on a hen’s tail, she will lead you to her nest. These tricks may work, but only because if you’re close enough to sprinkle salt on a turkey’s tail, you’re close enough to catch it anyway and if you pepper a hen’s tail, she’ll probably get disgusted with you and stalk off….back to her nest.
Roast Turkey with Apples
(Makes 12 servings)
- 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
- 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
- 10 whole cloves
- 3 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 2 quarts apple cider
- 4 quarts water
- Zest from 1 orange
- 3 teaspoons dried thyme
Make brine 1 day before roasting turkey. Combine all ingredients in nonreactive pot. Bring mixture to boil. Lower heat, simmer 15 to 20 minutes (partially covered).
Allow brine to cool completely.
- 3/4 cup apple cider
- 4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons corn syrup, divided
- 1 (12 pound) free range turkey
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 large garlic cloves, sliced and divided
- 2 onions, quartered and divided
- 3 Golden Delicious apples, cored, quartered, and divided
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 3 cups gluten-free chicken stock, divided
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Remove giblets from turkey cavity. Set aside. Rinse turkey under cool running water, pat dry with paper towels. Pour brine in container large enough to hold turkey and small enough to fit in refrigerator. Immerse turkey in cooled brine; turkey should be completely submerged in liquid. Cover, refrigerate at least 8 to 10 hours, up to 24 hours.
Make turkey day of meal. Remove turkey from brine, rinse. Preheat oven to 375 F. combine 3/4 cup cider and 4 tablespoons corn syrup in small saucepan. Bring mixture to boil. Remove from heat, set aside. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under turkey. In medium bowl, combine herbs, salt and pepper. Rub turkey all over with olive oil, then rub herb mixture over skin and inside cavity. Place half garlic, onion quarters, and apple quarters into body cavity. Place turkey breast side up in shallow roasting pan. Arrange remaining garlic, onions, and apples around turkey in pan. Place turkey in oven, roast 45 minutes. Baste turkey with cornstarch-apple cider mixture, cover loosely with foil. Continue roasting 2 hours and 15 minutes more or until meat thermometer registers 180 F. Baste every 30 minutes with cornstarch-apple cider mixture.
While turkey bakes, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add reserved giblets and neck; sauté 2 minutes each side or until browned. Add 2 cups chicken stock, bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat. Simmer 45 minutes. Strain mixture through fine sieve into bowl, discarding solids. Reserve 1/4 cup broth mixture.
Remove turkey from oven, let stand 10 minutes. Remove from pan, reserving drippings for sauce. Place turkey on platter and keep warm.
Spoon off any excess fat from drippings in roasting pan. Spoon out solids from pan, place in fine sieve set over bowl, pressing on solids to release any excess juice. Place roasting pan over 2 burners over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup chicken stock, cook (scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan.) Strain drippings through sieve into medium saucepan. Add juices from solids and giblet broth mixture to pan, cook over medium heat. Combine reserved 1/4 cup giblet broth with cornstarch; whisk into saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons corn syrup, stirring with whisk. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer until thickened. Carve turkey and serve with gravy.
Recipe from Glutenfreeda Online Magazine and Recipe Book.