From Crimea we cross the Black Sea to Turkey, a country that has plenty to keep the etymological traveller busy.
Angora wool, for instance, and the angora goats from which it comes, both take their name from the Turkish capital of Ankara, which was known as Angora until 1930. The word solecism comes from the Ancient Greek city of Soloi, near modern-day Mezitli on Turkey’s south coast, whose populace reportedly spoke such a crude dialect that the city’s name eventually morphed into a term for any sentence that breaks the rules of grammar. And the name of ancient Phrygian city of Laodicea, near modern-day Denizli, is the origin of the criminally underused adjective laodicean, meaning ‘apathetic’ or ‘lukewarm’; the word namechecks the ancient Laodicean Church, one of the seven so-called Churches of the Revelation singled out in the Bible and attacked for its religious indifference:
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Where is Istanbul, Turkey? – Istanbul, Turkey Map – Istanbul, Turkey Map Download Free Photo Gallery
The intricate architecture (and equally intricate political machinations) of Byzantium, the ancient name of Istanbul, is the origin of our word Byzantine, referring to anything impossibly complex or convoluted. According to etymological legend, the equally ancient city of Chalcedon (now Kadıköy, a suburb of Istanbul) has its name immortalised in that of the precious stone chalcedony. At the entrance to the Bosporus strait at Istanbul are a group of small rocky outcrops known in ancient times as the Symplegades. Legend has it that these rocks would clash together and destroy any vessel that dared sail past them, and so their name has become a metaphor for any dangerous or precarious situation.
Despite all of these stories, however, what brings us to Turkey now is perhaps one of the most obvious (and yet one of the most complicated) linguistic stories the country has to offer. So the burning question is, why are turkeys called turkeys?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest reference to a turkey we know about in English dates from 1541, when a ‘turkeycocke’ was listed as one of several ‘greater fyshes or fowles’ available on the menu to Tudor diners. This probably wasn’t the same turkey we have at Christmas and Thanksgiving: back in the mid sixteenth century, the birds we now know as turkeys had yet to make much of an impact on European cuisine, and so this Tudor-period turkey was probably an African guinea fowl, a pheasant, or even a peacock. (Or, perhaps more likely, the word was merely intended to be a catch-all term for any exotic-looking bird imported onto Europe dining tables via traders in the eastern Mediterranean.)
It wasn’t until later in the sixteenth century that turkeys as we know them today began to be imported in any considerable number across the Atlantic from Europe’s colonies in their native North America. As just another plump, peculiar-looking bird that roasted well and came from some far-flung land, it too came under the catchall heading all other similar birds had: the turkey, both in name and form, had finally arrived – from the opposite direction from its namesake country.
Over time, this American turkey steadily grew in popularity, and the name turkey became all but exclusively attached to it, falling out of use as a byword for any exotic fowl and leaving us with the bird, and indeed the word, as it is today.
Happily, the English language isn’t alone in its geographical struggle with the humble turkey. In French, for instance, the turkey is known as le coq d’inde, or simply dinde – a name that refers directly (and equally mistakenly) to India. Speakers of Polish (indyk), Basque (indioliar) and Armenian (who know the turkey as the hndikahav, or ‘Indian chicken’) all make the same error.
Things get even more specific in the likes of Dutch (kalkoen), Swedish (kalkon), and Norwegian (kalkun), all of which name-check the Indian trade port of Calicut in their words for ‘turkey’. In Portugal, things are even more confused: the Portuguese for ‘turkey’ is peru, which mistakenly refers to the South American country conquered by the Spanish at around the same time turkeys began to appear on European tables.
With most European languages apparently suffering some kind of turkey-related geographical misstep, it’s worth mentioning that those ever astute Luxembourgers dodge the issue altogether and implement a much more pragmatic solution. Rather than referencing the turkey’s supposed country of origin, Luxembourgish speakers allude instead to its striking nasal wattles in their word, Schnuddelhong – which literally means ‘snot-hen’.
And on that note, it’s time to move on Soon, we’ll be heading to Greece, but before that, let’s take a brief tour of some
Angora cats and rabbits, meanwhile, are so called because their long silky fur resembles the goats’ soft wool.