- turkey (n.)
- 1540s, "guinea fowl" (Numida meleagris), imported from Madagascar via Turkey, by Near East traders known as turkey merchants. The larger North American bird (Meleagris gallopavo) was domesticated by the Aztecs, introduced to Spain by conquistadors (1523) and thence to wider Europe, by way of North Africa (then under Ottoman rule) and Turkey (Indian corn was originally turkey corn or turkey wheat in English for the same reason).
The word turkey was first applied to it in English 1550s because it was identified with or treated as a species of the guinea fowl. The Turkish name for it is hindi, literally "Indian," probably via Middle French dinde (c.1600, contracted from poulet d'inde, literally "chicken from India," Modern French dindon), based on the common misconception that the New World was eastern Asia.
The New World bird itself reputedly reached England by 1524 at the earliest estimate, though a date in the 1530s seems more likely. By 1575, turkey was becoming the usual main course at an English Christmas. Meaning "inferior show, failure," is 1927 in show business slang, probably from the bird's reputation for stupidity. Meaning "stupid, ineffectual person" is recorded from 1951. Turkey shoot "something easy" is World War II-era, in reference to marksmanship contests where turkeys were tied behind a log with their heads showing as targets.
- country name, late 14c., from Medieval Latin Turchia, from Turcus (see Turk) + -ia.