cold turkey

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Jan 31 15:24:46 UTC 2002

>Related query:  whether or not we assume that the drug-withdrawal
>sense is the earliest for "cold turkey", whence the metaphor?  Why a

A very good question IMHO. Just from a glance at HDAS one would tend to
doubt that the drug-withdrawal sense is primary. "Cold turkey" has been
used with the sense "abrupt"/"without preparation" since ca. 1910, and the
sense is very similar to the use of "cold" in other combinations such as a
salesman's "cold call", or perhaps even the modern computer-related "cold
boot" (apparently a version of the older automobile-etc.-related "cold
start") ... indeed even now "I used to smoke but I quit cold in 1999" is
about the same as "I used to smoke but I quit cold turkey in 1999". It
looks like "cold turkey" might be an elaboration of "cold" in this sense.

One casual thought (perhaps infelicitous): could "turkey" be a stand-in (an
alternative for "rooster") for the taboo "cock"? "Cold-cock" (verb) is
often equated to "knock unconscious", but in my own experience it often has
more the sense of "sucker-punch" or "strike without warning" ....

Alternatively, it might be that turkey was/is generally considered a food
well suited to eating cold ....

A perhaps irrelevant observation: the expression "turkey on one's back" was
once used in reference to drunkenness ... this seems strikingly similar to
"monkey on one's back" used for drug addiction (and earlier for possession
by anger, apparently) ....

-- Doug Wilson

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