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Q: Thanksgiving question (origin of word "turkey") ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Thanksgiving question (origin of word "turkey")
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: dannidin-ga
List Price: $9.99
Posted: 01 Dec 2002 06:31 PST
Expires: 31 Dec 2002 06:31 PST
Question ID: 117173
Hello Researchers,

Turkeys (the fowls) are named, in English, after the country of
Turkey. In Hebrew, however, we call them "hodu", which is the Hebrew
name for the country of India. In French they are called "dinde" which
is a distortion of "d'inde", meaning "from India". I have long been
fascinated by this geographical/linguistic phenomenon, and I would
like to know the origin of the English term and the Hebrew/French
term. Also, I think the bird itself originates in America, far away
from either India or Turkey. Perhaps this is related to Columbus's
mistaking of America to the Indies?
One more amazing and related observation, which I can only guess is
entirely coincidental, is the following: The word "hodu" (=Hebrew name
of turkeys, country of India) is related to the word "hodaya" meaning
"the giving of thanks" (the Hebrew name for the holiday of
thanksgiving is "chag ha-hodaya".) Is this related to the American
tradition of eating turkeys on thanksgiving? This does not appear in
the "official" story of thanksgiving.

To answer my question, you must cite an authoritative source
explaining the origin of the English and French/Hebrew terms for
turkey. I will give a tip if you can dig up some reference explaining
the thanksgiving/hodu connection (or lack thereof).

One more thing I would appreciate seeing comments about (not part of
the "paid" question): Are there any other languages in which turkeys
are named after a country (Turkey/India/some other country)?

Subject: Re: Thanksgiving question (origin of word "turkey")
Answered By: bobbie7-ga on 01 Dec 2002 11:43 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Dannidin and thank you for your fascinating question.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary:

turkey: from confusion with the guinea fowl, supposed to be imported
from Turkish territory Date: 1555
Merriam Webster Dictionary

From the Ayto Dictionary of Word Origins:

“The term turkey was originally applied to the "Guinea-fowl",
apparently because the bird was imported through Turkish territory.
When the American bird we now know as the turkey was introduced to the
British in the mid 16th century it reminded them of the “Guinea fowl"
from Turkey and they called the bird a Turkey bird.”

Source: Ayto Dictionary of Word Origins, 1983.
The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

According to Klein's _Etymological Dictionary of the English Language,
“turkey is the name "originally applied to the guinea : fowl, imported
from Africa through traders who dealt chiefly with
the Near East : (and for this reasons were called 'Turkey-merchants');
hence the birds sold by : these merchants came to be known as

Wilton's Word & Phrase Origins discusses the word turkey in the
following excerpt:

“The bird we today call a turkey is native to America. Yet, how did it
become associated with the country of Turkey? The answer is that the
American wildfowl is not the only bird called a turkey. That, since
1552, is also a name for the guinea-fowl. That bird, native to Africa,
was brought to Europe via Turkey. When Europeans arrived in America,
they noticed similarities between the guinea-fowl and the American
bird and called the latter turkey. So, the name is from the country
although the bird is in no way associated with it.”
Word Origins Website

The word for turkey is also credited to Luis de Torres, the
interpreter on Columbus’s expedition:

“Luis de Torres, a Jew baptized shortly before Columbus' fleet sailed,
was the interpreter of the expedition. (..) He discovered “a large
wild bird with a head and body very similar to the peacock. The male
even had a feather display which, while not as spectacular, resembled
the peacocks. De Torres, with his background of Biblical Hebrew but
poor ornithological knowledge, called this bird a tukki, which over
the centuries has been corrupted into our "turkey."
Jewish World Review Website'1.ASP


“It is interesting that in French, according to the Larousse
Etymologique, dinde f, dindon m (turkey) originally was applied to the
guinea-fowl (pintade),: and derives from coq/poule de l'Inde.  Later
this was extended to the: American turkey.”

“In French, turkey is called dinde, from India, because French
explorers thought that they had reached the east.”


The student Rabbi Jack Romberg discusses the relation of the Hebrew
word hodu to the word todah which means thanks.

“The idea of giving thanks for the abundance of the harvest is what we
do at Sukkot. The idea that we should feel blessed with the bounty
that is provided for us at a meal is central to the Motzi and the
birkat hamazon, the blessings before and after the meal. (..) On
Sukkot, indeed all of our festivals, we recite Hallel. Hallel is a set
of Psalms of praise to God which we say as a "thank you" for the
particular celebration. A key phrase that occurs in Hallel is this:
"Hodu l'adonai, ki tov" which translated means, "Giving thanks to God
is good." The Hebrew word "hodu" means "giving thanks" and is related
to the Hebrew word "todah," which means "thank you." However, "hodu"
is also the Hebrew word for "turkey." So we can translate the same
phrase (Hodu l'adonai ki tov) this way: "Eating turkey for the sake of
God is good!" The word "hodu" from our festival psalm of praise means
both "giving thanks" and "turkey!" Finally, the English word, "turkey"
may have its origins in the Hebrew word "tookie" which is the word for
another large feathered bird, the parrot.”

Source: The Union of American Hebrew Congregations

In the article “Is Turkey Kosher?” by Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky, Ph.D.
the origin of turkey is also discussed.

“A major problem in analyzing the responsa is the confusion
surrounding the turkey's name, which relates to the confusion of where
Columbus had landed and where this new bird came from. About 1530 when
this new dish started appearing on English tables, it had been brought
to England by merchants trading in the eastern Mediterranean. These
merchants were called "Turkey merchants" because the whole area was
then part of the Turkish Empire and the bird was called "Turkey bird"
or "Turkey cock". (..)The English are among the few who related this
bird to Turkey. Nearly everyone else thought it came from India,
whereas in reality it came from Mexico, which was then known as The
Spanish Indies or the New Indies. Thus, in most European languages,
Arabic, and Hebrew it is called something like the "bird of India".
Even in Turkey they call it hindi, as though it came from hindistan,
which is Turkish for India. The modern Hebrew (tarnagol hodu) and
Yiddish (hendika hen) names both mean "Indian chicken".
Source: Website

The connection of Thanksgiving to the Jewish tradition is to the
holiday of Succoth. According Dr. Michael Feldberg, Ph.D. - American
Jewish Historical Society in his article Thanksgiving and the Jews:
Pennsylvania, 1868.
“The first "American" Thanksgiving was held in Plymouth, Massachusetts
in 1621, attended by 90 Native Americans and 50 English Pilgrim
settlers. That first Thanksgiving mirrored ancient harvest feasts such
as the Jewish Succoth, the ancient Greek mid-June Thesmophorian
celebration and the ancient Roman Cerealian rites of mid-April.”

Jewish Community Federation

Additional information that may interest you:

The word turkey is related to India for the following languages:
Arabic (standard) - turkey is diiq hindi, or Indian rooster.
Azari - 'hindishga', that's something related to 'Hind'(India).
Basque - "indioilar" or "indioilo" 
Catalan  - “dindi". 
Hebrew - "tarnegol hodu" or “Indian rooster"
Polish - indyk, or more specifically indor 'male turkey', indyczka
'female turkey' from the name 'India'.
Russian - indjuk_(male), indjushka/indejka  (female).  As food, the
turkey is referred to by the term indjushka. In sum, it's the "bird of
India," as in French.
Turkish - 'hindi'. 
Yidish - "indik". 

In Danish, Dutch, Finnish and Norwegian, it is associated with a town
from the Malabar coast (southern India):
Source: Eastern Michigan University
Thomas F. Shannon lists the word turkey in different languages here:

An article by A. Engler Anderson which discusses Jewish themes in the
American Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving: A Jewish Holiday?

How Turkey Got Its Name

Search Criteria:

origin of the word turkey
Thanksgiving has "Jewish" roots
"tarnegol hodu"
hebrew "day of turkey" +thanksgiving
etymology Hebrew turkey
hebrew  turkey hodu
turkey French origins

I hope you find this helpful. 

Best Regards,

Clarification of Answer by bobbie7-ga on 02 Dec 2002 06:04 PST
Thank you for the five star rating and generous tip!
dannidin-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $6.00
great answer!

There are no comments at this time.

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