Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures

Word Mystery: turkey / pavo / dinde


Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.

This map is almost irrelevant.

This map is almost irrelevant.

Well, that was a missed opportunity. Last week’s Word Mystery should definitely have been “turkey” but I schedule these posts so far in advance that I frequently pass up perfectly good holiday tie-ins. Though, truth be told, if I had an oven, I could still be eating Thanksgiving leftovers a week later since it’s my favorite meal in the universe… so, yeah, I totally meant to post this today! Whether you believe me or not, waddle on down and let’s talk turkey.

EN → turkey — a large mainly domesticated game bird native to North America, having a bald head and (in the male) red wattles. ORIGIN applied to the guinea fowl (which was imported through Turkey), and then erroneously to the American bird.

ES → pavoAve del orden de las Galliformes, oriunda de América. [Bird of the Galliformes order, native of America.] ORIGIN Latin pavus [peacock].

FR → dindeGrand oiseau de basse-cour originaire de l’Amérique du Nord dont le cou et la tête sont rouges et dépourvus de plumes. [Large game bird native of North America whose neck and head are red and without feathers.] ORIGIN Spaniards brought the bird to Europe from Mexico and in France it was known as “chicken from India” [poule d’Inde] since Columbus and the Spanish still thought the Americas were India.

English & Spanish note: man, people used to be really bad at geography. Like, way worse than I am at math which is hard to comprehend.

Second Spanish note: the definition for pavo was the longest I’ve come across, so I edited it down considerably. I have *no idea* why this of all words required such a lengthy, zoological description.

Spanish note, tercero: In modern Spanish, a peacock is called un pavo real [a royal turkey] which I like to interpret as a veiled insult to monarchies solely because that amuses me.

French note: The male of the bird is called a dindon, but it’s the female who gets eaten so she gets to be Word Mystery-ed.

Today’s Winner: it’s obviously French because that origin story is awesome, hilarious and makes Spaniards look like idiots. It’s a Word Mystery hat trick!

Learn one more thing

You may not have noticed the pun in the introduction and since I both love puns and want people to make gooder English talking, here’s an explanation. “Talking turkey” means to talk about something honestly. In this sense, turkey is also not bullshit which is another thing to love about it.

Author: le cul en rows

I'm an American Spaniard, living in France. I like to tell stories.

4 thoughts on “Word Mystery: turkey / pavo / dinde

  1. This might be one where Chinese could be in for the tie finish. In Mandarin they call turkey 火鸡 (huo ji) which literally means “fire chicken.” Since learning this, I suddenly like to eat turkey as it seems all the more edgy.

    • Holy fire chicken. What’s the fire part? Is it ’cause of the turkey’s prominent red color? It’s very striking, though I hope it’s actually because of some old Chinese folk tale about a flaming turkey careening down a hill.

  2. My husband (who’s from Peru) tells me that the Portuguese word for turkey is “peru” because they thought it came from Peru. It seems to be a pretty mixed up bird.

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