Talking Turkey

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Since today is USA Thanksgiving it is a good time to talk about Turkeys, their origin, their names and their use in language.

The Turkey had a strange introduction to the English language.   The Mexican turkey was domesticated by the Aztecs.  When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the New World they found a new type of domestic fowl.

To them it looked something like a peacock, so they gave it the Spanish word for the same:  Pavo.  The Peacock is now called the Pavo Real in Spanish, or the Royal Fowl.

When the Spanish brought the Turkey back from Mexico it spread rapidly across North Africa to the Ottoman Empire.  The Turks named the bird a “Hindi” or an Indian Fowl, because they then believed the New World was part of the Indian sub-continent. Hence we call the islands of the Caribbean the West Indies.

The French who purchased the bird from the Turks adapted the name “Hindi” to French.  They called it Volaille d’Inde (The Indian Fowl) which was shortened over time to Dindon.

The English called traders with the Ottoman Empire “Turkey Traders”.  When this new bird arrived they called it the Cock or Hen of Turkey.  So we get the name Turkey as a bird.

When English colonists set off to Virginia Colony and New England they included domesticated Turkeys in their compliment of farm birds.  When they arrived in the New World they were surprised to see a wild bird species remarkably similar to the fowl they believed came from Turkey.

The North American wild turkey ( Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) has not been domesticated, and is a different sub-species to the Aztec domestic turkey.

To ‘Talk Turkey’ is a synonym for talking real business.  It appears to originate in a joke where a white man suggests to a red indian that they share the spoils of their hunting as follows: ‘I can take the Turkey and you can take the crow, or you can take the crow and I can take the Turkey’ to which the Indian replies ‘you no talk turkey to me”.

To go “Cold Turkey” means to give up a habit or an addiction completely.  The phrase comes from the fact that drug or alcohol addicts to completely cease using can get cold clammy sweats and goosebumps on their skin, so their flesh looks like refrigerated Turkey.

A Turkey Shoot is a situation where a person or group has an unfair advantage over others.  In business it is a situation where unexpected demand creates an environment for supernormal profits and frequently arises in disaster situations or in times of war.  If you have the product the consumers will pay through the nose for it.  In military situations a classic case of a turkey shoot was the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, when union soldiers ran into the crater created by the detonation of a huge mine.  The sides were too steep for them to exit the hole and the Confederate troops were able to shoot down on them with ease from the rim of the crater.

The origin of the term ‘turkey shoot’ is uncertain.  Many rifle clubs in the USA hold pre-thanksgiving turkey shoots where the prizes are frozen turkeys.  What characterizes these competitions is that skill is replaced by luck.  Most of them involve blasting a target at short range with a shotgun.  Older versions involved shooting rifles at staked live turkeys, requiring slightly more, but not a huge amount of skill.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Today is Canadian Thanksgiving.  My brother Rory is Canadian, and he is over in Ireland at present, so he is having a family get together.  Rory is the boy on far left of the photo.  I am the one beside him with my back to the camera.  My two oldest brothers are missing from the photo.  I am guessing that one of them took this.

It is a great photo for capturing the zeitgeist.  Clearly back in those days Batman was popular.  Imagine that!

If you saw a picnic today, would you see five kids drinking cups of tea?  Note the Primus stove against the wall with the kettle on it.  The kettle was a fundamental requirement of a picnic in those days.  No coke or sodas, and strangely enough, no overweight people.

We are all sitting on a rubberised groundsheet.  In those days people worried about damp the way we now worry about bird flu and Al Quaeda terrorists.  Damp was the enemy.  You did not sit on damp ground.  You did not wear damp clothes.  Laundry regimes ensured that clothes were dried, folded and stored in a hot press to drive out any residual molecules of moisture before the clothes were worn.

My sister Deirdre (far right) has one trouser leg riding up and one held down with a strap.  Remember when girls slacks had hoops that went around the foot?  They stretched the fabric to keep it sheer.  Do they do that anymore?

This was taken in Skerries, a seaside and Fishing village in North County Dublin.  The Quinn Family (Fergal Quinn of Superquinn fame) used to run the Red Island holiday resort there at the time.  The pink paint on the bench looks funny.  Nowadays it is all blues and greens for seaside furniture.  It’s like somebody wrote a manual of approved furniture paints for seaside applications.  If they painted promenade benches pink today there would probably be complaints from the “concerned public”.  Too racy by far.

Trying to put a date on this.  I am guessing it is the summer of ’69.  That would make me 5 and Batman (Cormac) 3.  He looks about 3.  But he could be 4, so it could be 1970.

My sister Síle (black hair) believed she was adopted.  I wonder why?  For info, the two missing older boys also have red hair.

Note that despite the glorious sunshine and a clear blue sky, there is an umbrella hooked on the back of the bench.  Well, it is Ireland after all.  It never rains on those with umbrellas!

Today also happens to be my mothers birthday, so the thanksgiving is also a birthday celebration.  Sadly I will miss it in person, but thanks to the wonders of Skype I hope to attend in spirit.  Happy 86th Maura.  Here is the poem that I always associate with my mom.  She learned it for her Diploma in Speech and Drama and I have vivid memories of arriving home for lunch from school, to hear her reciting it.  And I remember that my lunch was not ready.  Imagine, a parent having a life!   The indignity.

Stony Grey Soil ; by Patrick Kavanagh

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick-tongued mumble.

You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life-conquering plough!
Your mandril strained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.

You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of coward’s brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food.

You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!

Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I still stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisened pen

His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.

Mullahinsha, Drummeril, Black Shanco –
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me.