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Q: Was Turkey a Bird or a Country First?

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A: Oh, we’ve struggled with chicken and egg question, and we’ve hesitated on the tree in forest acoustics problem, but in this case we have a definite answer for you. Drum roll, please! In the question of which came first turkey the bird, or turkey the country, the winner is: Turkey-the-country!

Turns out, turkey-the-bird is native to North America and only acquired its name when the Spanish brought it from Mexico to Europe. When the fowl made its triumphant debut in England, it was unfortunately mistaken for a Guinea Hen (how embarrassing!). Believing they knew all about the Guinea Hen, a common bird regularly imported from Africa by the Turks, the English proceeded to demonstrate they were the real turkeys in this story, and renamed the Turkey after its supposed importers.

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  • Dawn

    I can’t possibly state enough, how much I love Mental Floss. The books are awesome!!!

  • In my day, a turkey was known as a “walking bird.” We’d always have walking bird on Thanksgiving with all the trimmings. Cranberries, injun eyes, and yams stuffed with gunpowder. Then we’d all watch football, which in those days was called baseball.

  • Thanks Dawn!

  • Dawn

    Matt, in my day, they’d call a guy like you a doofus – actually they would call you that now.

    Your welcome Will – the books are completely addictive. A review is forthcoming!!

  • That’s all fine and good, but what I really wanna know is: Was Greece a country or an overrated musical first?

  • STM

    Remember on Thanksgiving Day, America … you are what you eat (make mine the turkey).

  • STM

    Also guys, you should be thanking the English for small mercies … can you imagine queuing up for turkey at the Webber and asking for a helping of white, North American guinea fowl meat?

  • RJ,

    Greece is what you get when you stick a Turkey on a flame. Any Cretan can tell you this.

  • MAOZ

    Turkey-the-bird is known in Hebrew as “Hodu”. “Hodu” also happens to be the Hebrew name for India. The American holiday at which turkey (hodu) is the traditional main course had its origins in a celebratory feast that the Pilgrims shared with some Native Americans — long referred to as “Indians” because of Columbus’ mistaken notion that he had reached India (Hodu). The holiday is Thanksgiving. The Hebrew word “hodu” also means “give thanks” — as in “Hodu LaShem ki tov, ki le-olam chasdo” (Psalm 136, “Give thanks to G^d for He is good, for His lovingkindness endures forever.”)

    Neat, huh?

  • There are, in fact, two countries called Turkey! Any of you mental floss addicts know which the other one is?

  • MAOZ

    Gee, I would think it’s a lot more than two — depending on how broad a range of political commentary you want to cover!

  • MAOZ

    If the turkey was mistaken for a guinea hen, why isn’t that South Seas locale known as Papua New Turkey?

  • S.T.M


  • serkan

    no he’s just been annoyin and tryin to slag us turks, and the comment earlier about greeks they are worthless pieces os shit (not a personal attack just a fact)

  • adlerjambon

    As I understand it from an explanation I got from someone who lives in the country of Turkey is that the bird was thought to originate in Turkey (Ottoman Empire) by Europeans. The Turks, knew it wasn’t and called it a hindi believing it was from India. So the Turkish word for the turkey bird is hindi. Of course everyone knows that the bird is native to the Americas.