No more "turkey", please

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Article by Vivian Salama and Jared Malsin in WSJ (11/27/22)

Turkey’s Push to Change How the World Pronounces its Name Causes a Flap

In part weary of bird comparisons, the country wants everyone to say ‘Tour-key-yeh.’ The rebranding has been a head-scratcher for many people.

In truth, I don't blame them, especially not since so many other countries and cities around the world have changed their names in recent decades.

Talking turkey is a pastime in the halls of government around the world. Yet what to call Turkey, the country, is something many can’t agree on.

In April, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked the international community to recognize his nation by its traditional name, spelled “Türkiye” and pronounced Tour-key-yeh.

His government promoted the shift as an effort to instill national pride—and silence associations with the Thanksgiving bird and pejorative uses of the word “turkey.”

An article published by the website of the state television channel cited “not flattering” comparisons to the bird. It added: “Flip through the Cambridge Dictionary and ‘turkey’ is defined as ‘something that fails badly’ or a ‘stupid or silly person.’ ”

“Made in Türkiye” now appears on the country’s exports. Turkish Airlines greets passengers “Hello, Türkiye” in a cheery video. Presenters on the country’s English-language TV channel, TRT World, have flocked to the name, though occasionally stumbling over the guttural “ü” sound.

According to various historians, the Thanksgiving bird got its name sometime in the 1500s when it arrived to Great Britain from America via merchants, most from Constantinople, known today as Istanbul. Given the perceived origins, the British referred to the bird as a “Turkey coq.”

Now, to straighten out how "turkey" became a demeaning term in many different senses:
turkey (n.) — the fowl

1540s, originally "guinea fowl" (Numida meleagris), a bird imported from Madagascar via Turkey, and called guinea fowl when brought by Portuguese traders from West Africa. The larger North American bird (Meleagris gallopavo) was domesticated by the Aztecs, introduced to Spain by conquistadors (1523) and thence to wider Europe. The word turkey first was applied to it in English 1550s because it was identified with or treated as a species of the guinea fowl, and/or because it got to the rest of Europe from Spain by way of North Africa, then under Ottoman (Turkish) rule. Indian corn was originally turkey corn or turkey wheat in English for the same reason.

The Turkish name for it is hindi, literally "Indian," probably influenced by French dinde (c. 1600, contracted from poulet d'inde, literally "chicken from India," Modern French dindon), based on the then-common misconception that the New World was eastern Asia.

After the two birds were distinguished and the names differentiated, turkey was erroneously retained for the American bird, instead of the African. From the same imperfect knowledge and confusion Melagris, the ancient name of the African fowl, was unfortunately adopted by Linnæus as the generic name of the American bird. [OED]

The New World bird itself reputedly reached England by 1524 at the earliest estimate, though a date in the 1530s seems more likely. The wild turkey, the North American form of the bird, was so called from 1610s. 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. To talk turkey (1824) supposedly comes from an old tale of a Yankee attempting to swindle an Indian in dividing up a turkey and a buzzard as food.


Clipping of turkey-cock and turkey-hen ((originally) the guinea fowl (family Numididae)), which was imported to Europe by Turkey merchants through Turkey. The word was then applied to the larger northern American bird Meleagris gallopavo which was brought to Spain by conquistadors in 1523. This transfer of the name may have occurred because the two birds were considered similar to each other, or because the North American turkey was in part introduced through Ottoman territories, or simply to indicate that it was foreign.
Turkey — the country
From Middle English Turkye, from Anglo-Norman Turkye, Medieval Latin Turcia, from Turcus (Turk), from Byzantine Greek Τοῦρκος (Toûrkos), from Persian ترک(Turk), from Middle Persian (twlk' /Turk/), from Old Turkic (t²ür²k̥).
There's a whole Wikipedia article on "The Name of Turkey", from which this statement about the official name of the country is taken:  "Turkey adopted its official name, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, known in English as the Republic of Turkey, upon the declaration of the republic on 29 October 1923."
(t²ür²k̥ /tyɾyc/)
From (t²ür²i /tyɾi/) +‎ (-k̥ /-yc/), from Proto-Turkic *türi- (lineage, ancestry).

The first known mention of the term Turk (Old Turkic: Türük or : Kök Türük, Chinese: 突厥, Pinyin: Tūjué < Middle Chinese *tɦut-kyat < *dwət-kuɑt, Old Tibetan: drugu) applied to only one Turkic group, namely, the Göktürks, who were also mentioned, as türüg ~ török, in the 6th-century Khüis Tolgoi inscription, most likely not later than 587 AD. A letter by Ishbara Qaghan to Emperor Wen of Sui in 585 described him as "the Great Turk Khan". The Bugut (584 CE) and Orkhon inscriptions (735 CE) use the terms Türküt, Türk and Türük.

During the first century CE, Pomponius Mela refers to the Turcae in the forests north of the Sea of Azov, and Pliny the Elder lists the Tyrcae among the people of the same area. However, English archaeologist Ellis Minns contended that Tyrcae Τῦρκαι is "a false correction" for Iyrcae Ἱύρκαι, a people who dwelt beyond the Thyssagetae, according to Herodotus (Histories, iv. 22), and were likely Ugric ancestors of Magyars. There are references to certain groups in antiquity whose names might have been foreign transcriptions of Tür(ü)k, such as Togarma, Turukha/Turuška, Turukku and so on; but the information gap is so substantial that any connection of these ancient people to the modern Turks is not possible.

It is generally accepted that the name Türk is ultimately derived from the Old-Turkic migration-term Türük/Törük,< which means 'created, born' or 'strong'. Scholars, including Toru Haneda, Onogawa Hidemi, and Geng Shimin believed that Di, Dili, Dingling, Chile and Tujue all came from the Turkic word Türk, which means 'powerful' and 'strength', and its plural form is Türküt. Even though Gerhard Doerfer supports the proposal that türk means 'strong' in general, Gerard Clauson points out that "the word türk is never used in the generalized sense of 'strong'" and that türk was originally a noun and meant "'the culminating point of maturity' (of a fruit, human being, etc.), but more often used as an [adjective] meaning (of a fruit) 'just fully ripe'; (of a human being) 'in the prime of life, young, and vigorous'". Turkologist Peter B. Golden agrees that the term Turk has roots in Old Turkic. yet is not convinced by attempts to link Dili, Dingling, Chile, Tele, & Tiele, which possibly transcribed *tegrek (probably meaning 'cart'), to Tujue, which transliterated Türküt. The Chinese Book of Zhou (7th century) presents an etymology of the name Turk as derived from 'helmet', explaining that this name comes from the shape of a mountain where they worked in the Altai Mountains. Hungarian scholar András Róna-Tas (1991) pointed to a Khotanese-Saka word, tturakä 'lid', semantically stretchable to 'helmet', as a possible source for this folk etymology, yet Golden thinks this connection requires more data.

The earliest Turkic-speaking peoples identifiable in Chinese sources are the Yenisei Kyrgyz and Xinli, located in South Siberia. Another example of an early Turkic population would be the Dingling. Medieval European chroniclers subsumed various Turkic peoples of the Eurasian steppe under the "umbrella-identity" of the "Scythians". Between 400 CE and the 16th century, Byzantine sources use the name Σκύθαι (Skuthai) in reference to twelve different Turkic peoples.

In the modern Turkish language as used in the Republic of Turkey, a distinction is made between "Turks" and the "Turkic peoples" in loosely speaking: the term Türk corresponds specifically to the "Turkish-speaking" people (in this context, "Turkish-speaking" is considered the same as "Turkic-speaking"), while the term Türki refers generally to the people of modern "Turkic Republics" (Türki Cumhuriyetler or Türk Cumhuriyetleri). However, the proper usage of the term is based on the linguistic classification in order to avoid any political sense. In short, the term Türki can be used for Türk or vice versa.


The Tiele (Chinese: 鐵勒; pinyin: Tiělè, Mongolian *Tegreg "[People of the] Carts"), also transliterated as Dili (Chinese: 狄歷), Chile (Chinese: 敕勒), Zhile (Chinese: 直勒), Tele (Chinese: 特勒), also named Gaoche or Gaoju (Chinese: 高車, "High Carts"), were a tribal confederation of Turkic ethnic origins living to the north of China proper and in Central Asia, emerging after the disintegration of the confederacy of the Xiongnu. Chinese sources associate them with the earlier Dingling (Chinese: 丁零).

Henceforth, I shall be happy to spell and speak the name of their country as Türkiye.  It will be hard to get everyone on board with typing the "ü", and most people won't be able to pronounce it either, but the least we can all do is add that final "e", giving the name of the country a third syllable, which will clearly distinguish it from the name of the big bird with the colorful tail feathers.

Addenda:  etymological, lexicographical, and historical notes

iye    Learned borrowing from Ottoman Turkish ایا(eye, iye), from Proto-Turkic *idi. Cognate with Mongolian эзэн (ezen). Doublet of ege.

n.     iye (definite accusative iyeyi, plural iyeler)

  1. owner, possessor


See the Proto-Altaic *ĕdV and the proto-Turkic *Edi on Starostin's database.

Proto-Turkic *jer (land, earth) -> Turkish yer

Also etymonline "Turkey"late 14c., from Medieval Latin Turchia, from Turcus (see Turk) + -ia.

For Türk (in Turkish), see Nişanyan Sözlük – Türkçe Etimolojik Sözlük and Wiktionary.  Also, in English, see Peter B. Golden, "Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Turks  and the Shaping of the Turkic Peoples", in Victor H. Mair, ed., Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2006), pp. 136-157.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Vito Acosta and Mark Metcalf]


  1. DJL said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 8:02 am

    They haven't changed their name, though. They are asking speakers of foreign languages (ie, not Turkish speakers) to pronounce and write the name of the country as it is done in Turkish (or an approximation of it).

    The stuff about the bird really is irrelevant and nonsensical, a bit like people avoiding the word 'niggardly', to be honest (and only really applicable in English, for the most part, which is what Erdogan and co. rally care about it, anyway). I for once have never ever even thought of the bird, as a demeaning term or otherwise, when thinking of or referring to the country – I mean, are we not allowed to use homophones in speech any more, lest it refers to something someone doesn't like, even if the reference is indirect or oblique?

    But nice to see some people have no problem humouring the 'nationalist' policies of such a wonderful government as that of the country of Turkey.

  2. Laura Morland said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 8:09 am

    Thanks for the breaking news! It seems that most folks — especially since the war began — have finally learned to drop the definite article before "Ukraine," and so maybe we'll be capable of adding a third syllable to Türkiye. (I doubt they'll demand that non-anglophone countries make the switch — for example, the capital of the PRC is still "Pékin" here in France; "Beijing" is unknown to them.)

    I was struck, however, by one term in the WSJ article: " Presenters on the country’s English-language TV channel, TRT World, have flocked to the name, though occasionally stumbling over the guttural “ü” sound."

    Could it really be a GUTTURAL “ü” sound? I doubted it, and I was right to do so. I just listened to 24 native speakers pronounce the name of their country, and their “ü” sounds roughly like a French "u"… and with several of the native speakers, it's more lax than that. What will be harder for anglophones is the "iye" ending (which also varies among the 24 speakers).


  3. Phillip Minden said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 8:11 am

    Those usual people who follow the dictator's order will now say not Türkiye but Thoğa Kıy Yey. At best.

  4. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 8:38 am

    Why can't we just have endonyms and exonyms that suit each speaker's phonemic inventory and be done with it? Otherwise, let's revisit:

    Afghanistan (blankets!)
    Albania (sounds too much like Scotland)
    Côte d'Ivoire (Why can't we keep the _literal_ translation — Ivory Coast?)
    Czechia (not without my pronunciation guide!)
    Djibouti (ask my 10 year-old)
    France (let's call it, "Frawnse")
    Niger (ask my 10 year-old)

    …and that's just the 1st 1/2 of the alphabet.

  5. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 8:46 am


    From the sound of it, the Britishers will have a hard time leaping the rhotic hurdle square in the middle:"

    But I get it — let's call people what they call themselves. Hear that, Mexico & Canada?, you now have to refer to the U.S. by our endonym, "America". And no r-trilling, we've got linguists doing periodic spectral analysis checks.

  6. Michael M said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 9:18 am

    The bird has got to be one of the most geographically confused species on the planet. It's also known as a peru (Peru) in Portuguese, a dik rūmī (Roman/Greek rooster) in Arabic, and for some reason a misir (Egypt) in Macedonian! Although I'll always be partial to the Afghan fil-murgh, the elephant-chicken.

  7. languagehat said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 9:48 am

    Another absurd diktat by another dictator that as usual is welcomed by those who enjoy jumping when the big guy says "jump." Erdoğan (how come the quoted news story can manage ü but not ğ?) can boss Turks around, but why do foreigners feel compelled to treat his whims as law? The English word for that country is "Turkey" just as the English word for the country brutalized by another dictator is "China" (another word with potentially confusing homophones!); that's life in this big complicated world with all its different languages. Get over it, Recep! (Not that he gives a damn, of course; he's just trying to distract easily distracted people from his brutality and corruption.)

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 10:00 am

    The prior Turkish strongman Mustafa Kemal p/k/a Atatürk was a world leader in top-down language change motivated by unsavory nationalism. (See the late Geoffrey Lewis' wonderfully-subtitled book "The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success.") But even he didn't impose on Anglophones to change their toponym for the country although to be fair he did try to change the name of Constantinople (which the Ottomans had never done) and most Anglophones fell in line.

    Kemalist nationalists, with their characteristically relaxed attitude toward the traditional Muslim proscription of alcohol (unfortunately tied up with the regime's heavy-handed laicite that has provoked an entirely predictable backlash) should appreciate that "turkey" certainly also has some very positive metaphorical associations in American popular discourse, e.g.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 10:14 am

    The parallel here, it strikes me is not so much Peking/Peiping -> Beijing, but Ivory Coast -> Cote d'Ivoire. The craven Anglophone media/government bureaucrats who gave in to that request have no one to blame but themselves for the bad incentives thus created. What are they going to say, poorly-pronounced French is an okay imposition on Anglophones but poorly-pronounced Turkish is not?

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 10:18 am

    Sorry, should have said "Côte d'Ivoire" in my prior comment, to parallel the demand that Anglophones use a diacritical mark that isn't in their standard alphabet.

  11. Thomas Lee Hutcheson said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 11:09 am

    Let's just rename the foul.

    First Meat Birds
    Indigenous Meat Birds
    Native Meat Bird
    Or adopt the Spanish word, "pavo;" it worked for chickpeas/garbanzos.

  12. cameron said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 11:56 am

    the fil-morgh (فیل‌مُرغ), i.e. "elephant fowl" in Afghan Persian, as mentioned by Michael M, above, is really a great name. the name for the bird in question in Persian as spoken in Iran is bughalamun, which I've always assumed to be onomatopoeic, based on their calls.

    similarly, we sometimes refer to them as "gobblers" in English.

  13. cameron said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 11:57 am

    sorry, meant to include the Persian spelling in my previous comment: bughalamun (بوقلمون)

  14. Nathan said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 12:08 pm

    Not likely to happen. There's still a lot of us who say Burma.
    It's just futile to try to dictate what other people call your country.
    And no one ever seems to whine about names like Germany, India, and Japan.

  15. Y said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 12:46 pm

    Over the years, people have gone along with country name changes: Burkina Faso, FYROM and then North Macedonia, etc. It's a harder sell when people are looking for an excuse to give said country's leader the finger.

  16. Peter H Metcalfe said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 2:04 pm

    I just find it odd that the dictionaries think the North American Turkey could have been introduced through Ottoman territories. Trade between the New World and Europe would have been through Spain and Portugal.

  17. David L. Gold said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 2:46 pm

    At the Israeli university where I taught, one of the reference librarians was especially helpful to me, so that in the course of time we got to know each fairly well. She was stronger in Polish than in Yidish but had great respect for Yidish-medium culture (‘We used to go to the Yidish theater [in Warsaw]’, we loved Yidish songs’, and so on).

    One day she said to me, ‘But one thing I have trouble accepting is the way speakers of Yidish mangle Polish place names when speaking Yidish.’

    I said, ‘They’re not mangling Polish place names when speaking Yidish – they’re using the Yidish names of places in Poland. Most of them are of Polish origin such as סטאַשעװ (stashev) ‘Staszów’ < Staszów, some are of German origin, such as װאַרשע (varshe) ‘Warsaw’ < Warschau, and the origin of a few is not fully clear, such as אַפּט (apt) ‘Opatów’.

    She was still not convinced and I therefore said, ‘The Latin name of the capital of the Roman Empire was Roma and the Italian name of the capital of the Roman Republic is Roma. What is its Polish name?’

    She immediately answered: Rzym (/ʐɨm/).

    It did not take more than two seconds for the purpose of my question to dawn on her. A broad smile came to her face and she said, ‘David, NOW I understand.’

    Eastern Yidish saying: זיך זעט מען נישט (zikh zet men nisht, with heavy stress on the first word) ‘people do not see themselves’.

    P.S. Apt is in some way related to German Abt ‘abbot’ (cf. Polish opat ‘idem’), but there seems to be no evidence that the German name of the town was ever *Abt and its Yidish name cannot be straightforwardly derived from the first four phonemes of its Polish name.

    I am aware of Max Weinreich’s explanation of apt but it does not seem convincing. Maybe the name reflects a now lost German name of the town, *Abt.

  18. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 3:01 pm

    David, I am unclear exactly what you are saying in « Most of them are of Polish origin such as סטאַשעװ (stashev) ‘Staszów’ < Staszów, some are of German origin, such as װאַרשע (varshe) ‘Warsaw’ < Warschau ». The first two elements are clearly Yiddish, expressed in two different scripts, and the final element is either Polish (Staszów) or German (Warschau), but what is the language of the middle element ? From the kreska in ‘Staszów’, I at first thought "Polish" but in the second you have ‘Warsaw’ where I had expected ‘Warszawa’ (to which װאַרשע (varshe) is much closer than it is to ‘Warsaw’. So what is the language of the middle element, please ?

  19. Peter B. Golden said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 6:01 pm

    Türük does, indeed, appear to be the original form of this ethnonym. I have discussed it at length in my article: “Reflections on the Ethnonym Türk” in: From the Khan’s Oven. Studies on the History of Central Asian Religions in Honor of Devin DeWeese, ed. Eren Tasar, Allen J. Frank. Jeff Eden (Leiden: Brill, 2022): 1- 50.
    The Turkish word for "turkey" (the fowl) is, of course, hindi (the Indian bird)

  20. David L. Gold said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 6:22 pm

    @Philip. The middle element (parenthesized) is a romanization of the Yidish name intended for readers unable to read the Yidish names in their Yidish spellings but who nonetheless want to have some idea of what the Yidish names are.

    The names in single quotation marks are the English names of the places: Staszów, Warsaw, and Opatów. They are given here for the purpose of identifying the places in question. Since I was writing in English, I identified them in English.

    Many people writing in English omit the diacritics. I do so too when the diacriticless spelling is firmly entrenched in English and to include the diacritic would be pedantic ((México, Zürich, and so on), but in the names of smaller places I tend to keep them (I do not know for what reason).

  21. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 6:22 pm

    @ Peter Taylor: In line with the usual notation in linguistics, the middle bit, surrounded by the single quotations marks, is the meaning:

    YiddishinHebrewScript (Transliteration) 'meaning' < Source

    So you could say it's English, but Staszów doesn't have a nativized English form the way Warsaw does.

  22. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 6:25 pm

    Кёльн (kyol'n) 'Cologne' < Köln

  23. cameron said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 6:35 pm

    in response to Peter H Metcalf above: no one is suggesting that North American turkeys were introduced to Western Europe through the Ottoman Empire. it was the fowl from Madagascar that we now call "guinea fowl" that was introduced to Europe by Turkish and Armenian traders, and were originally called Turkey-fowl. the north American birds were conflated with the other variety of exotic fowl, and the name was transferred to them

  24. Monscampus said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 6:44 pm


    *And no one ever seems to whine about names like Germany, India, and Japan.*

    Far from wanting to whine about my country's name in other languages, but I just don't get why Deutschland/Deutsch can't be found under D in English lists of countries/languages? They only crop up under G (Germany), where no one would look for them, i. e. no one except Anglophones. When driving my car in the UK people kept asking me a lot of questions about Denmark. They told me they knew I must be Danish because I had a *D* on my car. Others were convinced it meant "Dutch", i. e. the Netherland. Now I can't wait for the Danes to force all foreigners to call the Danish capital by its Danish name. I know it can be done.

  25. Viseguy said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 8:33 pm

    Mr. Erdogan evidently has a gan — I mean, wan — sense of humor.

  26. Martin Schwartz said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 9:53 pm

    Indeed, ü in Türkiye like u in Fr. Turquie or ü in German
    Türkei (which seems to bring with it a turkey egg); not "guttural". The
    g-háček of Recep Tayyip's surname is silent (and vowel-lentghening)
    in Istanbul, giving something like ærdwan, but is a spirantic g
    in dialects, reflected in many loans in Modern Greek, e.g.
    (G = gmma) Glendi 'party, festivity', Gur 'luck', Grusuzis 'jinx'. baGlamas 'a string instrument', -oGlu –son', etc. As for -iye
    given a Turco-Mongol(!) etymology in te preliminary Appendix,
    I'm dubious–perhaps Peter Golden can weigh in: I think
    the -iye = Ottoman *-iyye (spelled ,-yh> as in Kostantiniyye
    'Istanbul', from Arabic -iyya. I think "Turkey' is Turkiyya in Arabic.
    As for David Gold's remarks on Yiddish versions of Polish toponym,
    I think they are apt (a pun I've long wnated to discharge), but it may help for one to know that that unstressed final vowels in Yiddish go to -e, so Strashev (Strašev) < Straszów /strašuv/,
    Varše < Warschau, and Kroke (in Pol. Yid. Kruke) German Strauß!).
    Martin Schwartz

  27. /df said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 10:08 pm

    @Monscampus: (not @Feldberg?): is there a commercial opportunity for self-explanatory vehicle nationality labels like so:


    You could have a whole set to cover France, Italy, etc.

    Specifically, the same "Turkish" traders who peddled guinea-fowl took up the New World elephant-chicken when it was brought to Spain and then the rest of Europe. By the late 16th century turkeys, named so, were being marched up the London road from Norfolk to market along with cattle for the victors of the Armada to enjoy.

    Meanwhile we should all be clear that the English language name for the country between Greece (not Hellas) and Armenia (not Hayastan) is Turkey, just as the name of the principal city of Bavaria is Munich, that of the heart of the Indian film industry (not Mollywood) is Bombay, and that of the capital of mainland China is Peking. Not to forget the fine Ligurian port of Leghorn. In particular the name can't be one with an umlaut since the English language doesn't have them (and a similar argument applies to the Ivory Coast). Surely an important country like Turkey deserves an English name rather than «Türkiye»?

    The main problem is international fora where a lingua anglica prevails yet participants want to use their national language names for their own geography. In India, the active local branch of English plays a similar role. As long as confusion is avoided that's fine, but don't expect other English speakers to do so outside such fora.

    Governments who want to rename their country in favour of a majority tribe should especially be resisted, even if the recent history of Ceylon or Burma may not have been much less troubled under those names. Turkey seems like a similar case, but with the war across the Black Sea no-one wants to say no to Turkey just now.

  28. R. Fenwick said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 10:10 pm

    @Peter H Metcalf:
    I just find it odd that the dictionaries think the North American Turkey could have been introduced through Ottoman territories. Trade between the New World and Europe would have been through Spain and Portugal.

    and @cameron:
    in response to Peter H Metcalf above: no one is suggesting that North American turkeys were introduced to Western Europe through the Ottoman Empire.

    Actually, that's probably exactly what happened. Some trade products from the New World are indeed remarkable in being introduced into Europe not eastwards from Spain and Portugal, but in fact from western Asia via Portuguese-controlled sea routes that also included their trade colonies in India and on the West African coastal region around modern Guinea. (Hence guinea fowl.) Historical records show that New World beans were in Turkey already by 1513. Maize was a pivotal Ottoman crop no later than 1539 and squash was well known by that time as well. Remember that Spain and Portugal were major colonial powers, and trade did not all funnel through the Iberian peninsula; several Mesoamerican crops were likely introduced into the Islamic world and subsequently into Europe through trading ports in southern Asia, particularly Goa but also including the regions of West Bengal and Gujarat.

    From the linguistic side of things, though English turkey may well be the result of early conflation with the guinea fowl, the turkey specifically can otherwise be traced region to region, with no breaks, right back to the Americas and specifically via the Portuguese traders. In Ottoman (and modern) Turkish it's called hindi (= "Indian"), whereas in India, there's Hindi pērū pakṣī and Assamese peru sorai, loans from early Portuguese peru (since Peru in colonial times was often used broadly for all of the Spanish colonial holdings in the Americas). For the Indian connection, note also French dinde (← poule d'Inde), archaic Italian pollo d'India, Dalmatian dindiuota, Belarusian дзікая індычка, Ukrainian індик, Georgian indauri… In many western European languages a certain amount of reappropriation of terms can be admitted (one medieval French record dating to 1381 records the sending of poulles d'Ynde from Count Louis de Male of Flanders to King Charles VI), but there is no evidence that the Portuguese, Turkish, Slavic, or Georgian terms ever referred to anything other than the American turkey, and all of these languages have very different names for the guinea fowl.

    Nor are these colonial linguistic footprints restricted to the turkey. Maize in particular also carries strong and consistent signs of most steps of the trade route that introduced it into Europe via western Asia: note e.g. English Turkey corn, Italian granoturco, Hungarian törökbúza, Catalan blat de moro, whereas Turkish mısır = Mısır "Egypt", Armenian egiptacʿoren, Greek αραβόσιτος, but (dialectic) Arabic حبش‎ ḥabaš "maize" = "Ethiopia", with Portuguese explorers and traders having visited Ethiopia since the late 15th century. (Similarly, note also Arabic دِيك الْحَبَش‎A dīk al-ḥabaš "turkey", literally "rooster of Ethiopia"!)

    Sweet peppers and tomatoes appear to be exceptions, likely having been introduced directly by the Spanish and rapidly adopted also in Italy without passing through the roundabout Portuguese-Indian-Islamic route, but possible secondary introductions along this latter route can be seen even so: note early English ginnie [= Guinea] pepper, early German indischer Pfeffer and türkischer Pfeffer (alongside spanischer Pfeffer), and for tomatoes also early Italian pomo di moro "Moorish apple".

    A nice explanation of the Portuguese-Indian-Islamic route is Jean Andrews's 1999 paper "Diffusion of Mesoamerican food complex to southeastern Europe" (Geographical Review 83 (2): 194-204).

  29. martin schwartz said,

    December 22, 2022 @ 12:21 am

    @Thomas Lee Hutcheson: Any Latin-American pavo who identifies with his name etymologically is suffering from Dementia pæcox.
    I didn't understand your last sentence: chickpeas as pea chicks,
    i.e. the chicks of peahens? As for garbanzo, I think it is somehow
    related to Anc. Greek erébinthos (with its notoriously labyrinthine
    (Minoan?) suffix, but I can't account for the g-. Interesting is
    Yiddish arbes 'chickpeas' vs. German Erbse 'peas' ; in some Yiddish dialects (not mine) 'chickpea' has been re-Mediterraneanized as
    nahít < Turkic < Pers. nuxud, noxod.Chickpeas have a big role in Yiddish culinary habits.
    Martin Schwartz

  30. martin schwartz said,

    December 22, 2022 @ 12:32 am

    For 'chickpea', Russian and Ukrainian have /nut/,
    but I haven't researched the relationship to Yiddish
    nahit on the one hand and Turkic nuhut on the other.
    Martin Schwartz

  31. Mehmet Oguz Derin said,

    December 22, 2022 @ 1:36 am

    This change reminds me of another Turkic instance of becoming 回鹘 instead of 回纥 by official request.

    回纥,其先匈奴之裔也。… 元和四年,蔼德曷里禄没弭施合密毗迦可汗遣使改为回鹘,义取回旋轻捷如鹘也。八年四月,回鹘请和亲,… -旧唐书/卷195

    Nevertheless, I think this request to change at the UN level reflects something people desired to some degree. Since my early childhood, such discussions would pop up here and there, and I think it is not very good to politicize this. Nowadays, I observe to see which countries respect a people's desire to refer through self-nomination, even in Turkiye (without the umlaut) form, at least in official systems. Countries of South Korea, Taiwan, and China, fortunately, do adopt the new ending.

  32. languagehat said,

    December 22, 2022 @ 9:34 am

    which countries respect a people's desire to refer through self-nomination

    Nobody objects to anybody's "self-nomination"; Turks can call their country whatever they like without objection, just as the US can call itself whatever it likes. But nobody has a right to demand that other people use a different term than the one in use in their language. I note without comment that Turks call the US Amerika Birleşik Devletleri (ABD).

  33. Terry K. said,

    December 22, 2022 @ 10:20 am

    In respone to Benjamin E. Orsatti's comment: But I get it — let's call people what they call themselves. Hear that, Mexico & Canada?, you now have to refer to the U.S. by our endonym, "America". And no r-trilling, we've got linguists doing periodic spectral analysis checks.

    Canadians do, at least some of them, call the U.S. America. It threw me off once when a musician from Nova Scotia talked about coming to America for the first time, meaning coming to the United States from Canada. (Coming to America in my experience of it's usage does mean coming to the U.S., but from outside the Americas.)

  34. Terry K. said,

    December 22, 2022 @ 10:20 am

    Ooops…. forgot to close my italics after the quote.

  35. Mehmet Oguz Derin said,

    December 22, 2022 @ 11:26 am

    @languagehat It is not a demand, though; furthermore, it is not specific to English. To speak the origin of the story that is not in the news, it stems from the Official Gazette's suggestion for Turkish individuals to use "Türkiye" as a unifying way to romanize the country's name (where not only Turkey but Turkei and Turquie are also to avoid explicitly by the text). But English is the lingua franca, and that's why request happens in this direction where people find Turkey to misrepresent the pronunciation and derogatory. It is only a requirement in formal communications due to the UN decision, and if the UN has room for change, then the country & the people can obviously opt into using that.

    If there is any concern in the rendering of the United States of America in Turkish, then obviously, it would be better for Turks to respect a suggestion to improve communications. However, this situation is not people meddling in another people's formation of the language. It is a mere topic of recognition and respect, and there are many situations like this where sort was done in a civil manner after being found inappropriate and misleading.

  36. Chris Button said,

    December 22, 2022 @ 12:08 pm

    The first known mention of the term Turk (Old Turkic: Türük or : Kök Türük, Chinese: 突厥 …

    Small side note here. The Old Burmese form taruk (later respelled as tarup and tarut), which is now used for "China", has been quite plausibly associated with the word "Turk". The proposal seems to go as far back as Phayre's proposal in his 1893 History of Burma.

  37. cameron said,

    December 22, 2022 @ 4:37 pm

    @martin schwartz: I thought Spanish garbanzo was borrowed from Basque (or from an ancient language related to Basque). I'm sure there are people who dispute that, but it seems pretty likely

  38. martin schwartz said,

    December 23, 2022 @ 2:16 am

    @cameron: pretty likely, why? There is no Basque etymolology;
    guessed Basque is a basket of last resort. Fact is that Old Spanish has arvanço; the g- may come from galbana 'a kind of pea' or
    less likely garruba 'carob pod'. I doubt that arvançco: erebinthos
    can hardly be coincidenatl; there is a sizable literature on the evidently pre-Greek-inthos suffix (laburinthos, terebinthos, asaminthos, Korinthos etc. etc.) with speculations of parallels in languages of Asia Minor, but none that I know for Basque or its purely putative congeners. And note that the word kik(kered)
    around Germanic as well. as per Yiddish arbes etc.
    Martin Schwartz

  39. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 23, 2022 @ 5:02 am

    "guessed Basque is a basket of last resort" — or even a Basquet of last resort !

  40. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    December 23, 2022 @ 7:47 am

    Maybe Erdogan should restore the Greek etymology of "Istanbul" too? —> “Is tin Poli" (into the city)

  41. Martin Schwartz said,

    December 24, 2022 @ 3:49 am

    @Lucas Christopoulos:And then he could restore Istanköy
    as /is tin Ko/. 'in(to) Kos'. Fat chance. Armenians still call Istanbul
    Polis, as the Greeks i Poli. It is interesting that there is no Turkish name for Istanbul that doesn't have a Greek etymology.
    Fortunately, we're not bade to put a dot on the capital I of Istanbul,
    and that of Istanköy, as per the Turkish spelling. Demanding outsiders spell Türkiye
    with ü is enough of a typotyranny.@Taylor, Philip: I remember
    a cruel pun-chline involving too many Basques in the same exit,
    but the joke is too unseemly to repeat.
    Martin Schwartz

  42. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 24, 2022 @ 6:43 am

    I do not feel comfortable with the suggestion that being asked to spell Türkiye correctly (i.e., with u-trema) is a typotyranny. Whilst Unicode is not without its shortcomings, its very existence allows us to type
    almost all of the world's written languages correctly, and this is surely something in which we should rejoice. I make a point of spelling my wife's name ("Âu Dương Lệ Khanh") correctly whenever I need to write it, and that is a far more demanding task than the relatively trivial task of spelling Türkiye correctly (T Alt+0252 r k i y e). Türkiye. QED.

  43. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    December 24, 2022 @ 7:32 am

    @Martin Schwartz
    yes indeed! I also suspected that the Sultan meant "Mavi Vatan" as an an ancient denomination for the Issyk-Kul rather than the "Aegean."

  44. Andrew Usher said,

    December 24, 2022 @ 9:45 pm

    Philip Taylor:

    But the name 'Turkey' when used in English is an English word, if we were to change to 'Turkiye' it would still be an English word subject to English phonological and orthographical rules.

    Cf. how English-speaking people say Myanmar, Cote d'Ivoire, or closer to the present context, Istanbul.

  45. Andrew Usher said,

    December 24, 2022 @ 9:51 pm

    And /ˈtɝkijə/ as we would probably make it sounds pretty close to those native pronunciations, anyway.

    k_over_hbarc at

  46. Taylor, Philip said,

    December 25, 2022 @ 6:01 am

    Andrew — "But the name 'Turkey' when used in English is an English word". Agreed. "[and] if we were to change to 'Turkiye' it would still be an English word subject to English phonological and orthographical rules". Also agreed. But if we were to change to 'Türkiye', as requested by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it would be a Turkish word, subject to Turkish phonological and orthographical rules. And I for one would have no problem with that request.

  47. DJL said,

    December 25, 2022 @ 10:31 am

    To repeat myself: nice to see some people have no problem following the nationalist diktats of undemocratic, corrupt, and authoritarian governments.

  48. Peter Grubtal said,

    December 25, 2022 @ 6:33 pm

    @Mehmet Oguz Derin

    Are you telling us then that the name Turkey is misleading and inappropriate?

  49. R. Fenwick said,

    December 25, 2022 @ 8:24 pm

    Also, @J. W. Brewer:

    he did try to change the name of Constantinople (which the Ottomans had never done

    Neither of those things is true. The only thing that happened under Atatürk's presidency was the encouragement of foreigners to refer to the modern city by its current name; however one might enumerate Atatürk's sins, a somehow draconian rebranding of Constantinople to İstanbul was not one of them. And the Ottomans essentially changed the name as soon as they conquered it in 1453, calquing the name to Ottoman Turkish قسطنطينيه Ḳosṭanṭīnīye at a very early stage, and that remained the most formal name for it during much of Ottoman rule. In fact, after the fall of Constantinople neither the Ottomans nor Greek- or Armenian-speaking people living in the region ever really called the city by that name or any similar phonetic rendering; alongside Ottoman Ḳosṭanṭīnīye, the Ottoman name استانبول Istānbūl steadily gained traction into the 17th and 18th centuries, and later even formalised, being the name used in Article 2 of the 1876 Constitution of the Ottoman Empire. The general consensus is that Istānbūl comes from an Anatolian Greek contraction of earlier εἰς τὴν Πόλιν "to the City" (İstanbul being THE city of importance for people in much of at least western Anatolia and Thrace). Several other Anatolian cities bear names that are similarly from petrified Greek phrases of preposition plus toponym: Samsun, for example, is ultimately from εἰς Αμισόν "to Amisos", and İznik from εἰς Νίκαιαν "to Nicaea". (Also, an almost identical contraction to that of İstanbul occurred in Crete, where classical Lappa was apparently renamed Stimboli – from the same phrase εἰς τὴν Πόλιν – during the Middle Ages, though I haven't yet been able to chase down a specific source.)

    For my part, demanding that the modern city continue to be referred to in English as Constantinople – which hasn't been used by either its residents or any of its ruling powers for more than half a millennium – strikes me as more than a little like insisting on using the names Camulodunum, Thera, Rhodesia, and New Amsterdam to refer to modern Colchester, Santorini, Zimbabwe, and New York. More, English speakers have more or less happily fallen in lockstep with complete renamings elsewhere (e.g. EdoTokyo, KristianiaOslo, LeopoldvilleKinshasa, MadrasChennai). There's a great deal of political bias and historical baggage involved in how happy we are to accept such renamings and I'd suggest a certain degree of that is probably involved in the Constantinople → İstanbul shift.

  50. Mehmet Oguz Derin said,

    December 25, 2022 @ 8:43 pm

    @Peter Grubtal

    I was exemplifying the topics (not direct instances) of other cases where naming had a sort between authorities or people. I think the original post here written by Professor Victor H. Mair already lists enough of the reasons or associations why the people (not only some authority) were not particularly fond of the previous name at the UN.

    I am not a native speaker of English, though; apologies if any word has subtle nuance to it that comes across as deviating from common sense one might consider from the original post.

  51. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    December 26, 2022 @ 2:56 am

    "For my part, demanding that the modern city continue to be referred to in English as Constantinople – which hasn't been used by either its residents or any of its ruling powers for more than half a millennium – strikes me"

    For the Orthodox Christian world (Serbs, Ethiopians, Syrians, Russians, Ukrainians, Syrians etc.), to call Constantinopolis by another name would be just similar as asking the Catholics Worldwide to call Rome differently or the Muslims the Mecca otherwise. This is unfortunately where Samuel P. Huntington was correct in his 1996 analysis. Not especially for me personally, but for the cultural traditions among populations carrying different "blocks" of religions and sensibilities, and been driving by faith. That is indeed not the case of the Western World anymore. Turkey can be called as they like, Germany Deutschland, Hungary Magyar or Greece Hellas…what really matters for Erdogan is not about the form. It is about faith and power, driving Islamic fundamentalism (sponsoring the Salafi movement in Western Europe, making Agia Sofia a Mosque, forbidding the Kurds to make festivities in their own language in Turkey or serving as a passage base for the Isis fighters), expansionism by menacing its neighbors (very few reports in the Western medias because of the Russia/Ukraine war and the NATO need of Turkey) and seeking influence worldwide by bribes because of its favorable geostrategic position.

  52. DJL said,

    December 26, 2022 @ 4:33 pm

    @ Mehmet Oguz Derin: the original post doesn't do such thing, and there's really nothing derogatory, misleading or inappropriate about using the word 'turkey' to refer to the country of, well, Turkey (and no, there is no rule that imposes any conditions on how the pronunciation of an exonym should relate to the pronunciation of the respective endonym). The alluded associations to other meanings of the same word, derogatory or not, are only imagined in the mind of nationalists, for whom any slight, perceived or indeed made up, as in this case, can be a cause of offence or an insult to the honour of the motherland. Needless to say, calling Turkey 'Turkey' doesn't make Turkey any less Turkish.

  53. Mehmet Oguz Derin said,

    December 26, 2022 @ 5:35 pm


    What I refer to as listing is the content after the "Now, to straighten out how "turkey" became a demeaning term in many different senses" line.

    Demeaning, per Cambridge, does bear "causing someone to become or feel less respected" meaning.

  54. Andrew Usher said,

    December 26, 2022 @ 6:27 pm

    As to Constantinople, it is my understanding that Greeks, even apart from religion, have always considered that (the Greek version – of course the name was coined in Latin and was taken into English from Latin) to be the name of the city, even if shorter forms were common in speech.

    By itself it's not something I really have an opinion on.

  55. DJL said,

    December 27, 2022 @ 2:48 am

    Yes, Mehmet, but that’s effectively the meaning of a different word, though it has the same sound and spelling, and it really has little to do with the exonym, in English, for the country of Turkey, which is what you don’t seem to understand. As mentioned, the offence is quite simply imagined by what is clearly a nationalist temperament – it’s not there, and the diktat to change usage in other languages should simply be ignored.

    But thank you for sending me the definition of ‘demeaning’, I didn’t know it.

  56. Levantine said,

    December 27, 2022 @ 5:19 am

    I am a British Turk and find the whole thing very puzzling. This request didn’t begin with Erdoğan; I’ve heard versions of it since childhood from governments of various ideological stripes. Nothing ever comes of it, and I doubt it ever will. Besides being in no way insulting, “Turkey” is about as close an exonym to the country’s Turkish name as one could hope to find and actually predates the latter by many centuries—the Ottomans really didn’t use “Türkiye” before the twentieth century. I for one will be sticking with “Turkey” when writing/speaking English.

  57. Mehmet Oguz Derin said,

    December 27, 2022 @ 1:57 pm


    The point wasn't to primarily show the demeaning: Reply said the original post does not do such a listing (I said listing initially and not making a case to contrast), and I have pointed out the place in the OP. Diktats, nationalists, temperaments, and nationalist temperaments of diktats are a bit pompous wording if this much tracing is hard to do.

  58. DJL said,

    December 27, 2022 @ 3:18 pm

    My point, Mehmet, was that the original post didn’t show that using the word ‘turkey’ to refer to Turkey was demeaning – they are just two different words, with no connection at all, etc. And I ignore the comment about the pomposity of my choice of words; it’s pointless.

  59. Mehmet Oguz Derin said,

    December 27, 2022 @ 4:09 pm


    I agree that the post doesn't make the case but just lists those other words, homophones. And for the existence of those words and their abuse for ridicule (not hypothetical, unfortunately, even as recent as 2017 within a large international event), ordinary people with zero to little political motivation from different backgrounds were also searching for alternative spellings; hence, the change increases mutual understanding between peoples. But I understand the other take, and it is natural to agree to disagree. Thank you.

  60. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    December 28, 2022 @ 2:27 am

    Grèce sounds like graisse…Greece like grease…Maybe to conclude with the 60th post (la cerise sur le gâteau)…have a nice big and oily bird for the New Year Festivities!

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