Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘talking turkey’

Cold Turkey

Posted by Admin on December 20, 2013

When you quit something point blank instead of tapering off or cutting down gradually, you’ve gone cold turkey. Although some claim it relates to walking away from an addiction, the term applies to many other activities that are stopped immediately. In some cases, it also means to speak frankly, and in yet other cases, it has nothing to do with being frank or quitting a behavior.

In 2006, Brian Snowdon and Howard R. Vane wrote and published a book entitled, “An Encyclopedia of Macroeconimics.” On page 135, the following definition for cold turkey is given:

A rapid and permanent reduction in the rate of monetary growth aimed at reducing the rate of inflation.

The idea of cold turkey referring to economics isn’t new. When Sweder van Wijnbergen wrote his book “Should Price Reform Proceed Gradually Or In A Big Bang?” he included the idiom on page 26 where he wrote in part:

Thus cold turkey programs will unambiguously be more credible than gradual programs that actually cause increasing shortages in their initial phase: and even if gradual programs do not cause increasing shortages, cold turkey decontrol program will still be more credible.

In Mickey Spillane’s book “The Deep” published in 1961 the following exchange can be read:

“Easy, kid. You could have been part of a setup. The word goes out to stay clear of Bennett’s place during a certain time … or if you get clear to make a call to let somebody know … and then blooie, Bennett catches it and you’re clean. Almost.”

He didn’t like that last word.

“The cops figure like that and tie it in and you’ll be doing the turkey act downtown. Cold turkey. Think you could take it?”

“Deep … jeez! Look, you know I wouldn’t … hell, Bennett and me, we was friends. You know, friends!” He was perched on the very edge of the bed shaking like a scared bird.

Later on in the book, he author wrote:

I grinned nastily so Pedro could see it. “Nothing special. I just put our buddy in the path of law and order. He’s a junkie, so I dropped a few days’ poppilng [sic] in his pocket with the gimmicks and if he gets picked up he goes cold turkey downtown. In five minutes a cop’ll walk in here and off this laddie goes. Unless he talks, of course. In that case he can even keep what’s in his pocket.

In fact, in the book, by Vincent Joseph Monteleone entitled, “Criminal Slang: The Vernalucar of the Underground Lingo” published in 1945 and reprinted in 1949, he states that cold turkey means a number of things including:

1. to speak frankly;
2. to be arrested with the loot in one’s possession; and
3. to quit using drugs without tapering off or without drugs to relieve the withdrawal.

Going back to 1928 and the magazine “The Author & Journalist” the idiom is used on page 28 in an article by Alan Streeter entitled, “Putting ‘Cold Turkey‘ Into Writing.” Alan Streeter wrote:

… in getting stories by the “cold turkey” method. [The writer] must be able to ascertain the general standing of the merchant or the store about which the article is to be written.

Oddly enough, in a book by Theodore Roosevelt published in 1888, and again in 1904, and entitled “Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail: An Account Of Life In The Cattle Country Of The Far West” he wrote of a gentleman known as Cold Turkey Bill in Chapter VI entitled, “Frontier Types.” In this chapter he wrote:

He was victorious over the first two or three eminent citizens whom he encountered, and then tackled a gentleman known as “Cold Turkey Bill.” Under ordinary circumstances, Cold Turkey, though an able-bodied man was no mater for The Pike; but the latter was still rather drunk, and moreover was wearied by his previous combats. So Cold Turkey got him down, lay on him, choked him by the throat with one hand, and began pounding his face with a triangular rock held in the other. To the onlookers the fate of the battle seemed decided; but Cold Turkey better appreciated the endurance of his adversary, and it soon appeared that he sympathized with the traditional hunter who, having caught a wildcat, earnestly besought a comrade to help him let it go.

No explanation is proffered in the book explaining how Cold Turkey Bill got his nickname. That being said, it was in August 1915 that the following was printed in the Oakland Tribune:

This letter talks cold turkey. It gets down to brass.

Even back in 1915, cold turkey meant to speak frankly without any gradual minimizing of words to get to the subject at hand. Unfortunately, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of cold turkey, and since it was used so eloquently in 1915, it’s reasonable to peg this idiom to the previous generation. In other words, it most likely was an expression that came out of the 1880s, and quite possibly from the expression talk turkey.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Talking Turkey

Posted by Admin on December 18, 2013

When someone talks turkey, they’re being honest and direct about an issue. The intention is to discuss something seriously, and to resolve the issues that are part of the issue.

On November 23, 2013, Directors Magazine published an article with information compiled by Mark Newel, Jon Campbell and Lou Yost. The focus was on geographical locations across America that had key Thanksgiving themes in their names such as Turkey, Pilgrim, and Cranberry. The article was aptly titled, “USGS: Let’s Talk Turkey Across The Landscape.”

In Volume 39 of the Magazine of Business published in 1921, an article titled, “Over The Executive’s Desk” used the idiom repeatedly. The opening paragraph read thusly:

When business folks begin to “talk turkey,” interest grows. And those interested in the “talk” work, think and progress with increasing intensity. This is not theory; we all know it to be a fact. It was on this principle that the general sales manager of the American Slicing Machine Company based his campaign against tardiness and absenteeism in the office.

The American Clay Magazine reported on anything and everything relating to clay workers and the clay industry. Published by the American Clay Machinery Company, the company was touted as a brick manufacturer that not only made bricks, but one that also made a speciality of building machinery adapted to every peculiarity of clay regardless of location or country in which the clay was found. In one of the 1907 issues, one of the articles discussed the continuous kiln in Youngstown on the Bessimer yards, and within that article the following was stated:

But shaw! what’s the use of talking to you, Mr. Brickmaker, about the benefits of a brick home. What is necessary is for you to talk turkey to your customers or rather to those who ought to be your customers. You are missing a heap of good business every day and if you put up the rich argument you could get it. We’ve been trying to help you on the selling end of the game by printing selling talk and selling articles — matter which boosts brick.

In “John Beedle’s Sleigh Ride, Courtship, and Marriage” by Captain William L. McClintock of the U.S. Army and published by C. Wells in New York back in 1841, an amazing story that was actually a collection of anonymous writings published in the Portland Courier over the years, under the pen name of John Neal. Under the section of “Marriage” the following can be found in this book:

Patty Bean was not the first that I run against by a long shot. I never lost any thing for want of asking; and I was plaguy apt to begin to talk turkey always when I got sociable, if it was only out of politeness. Now then one would promise, and then fly off at the handle; but most all contrived some reason or other for giving me the bag to hold.

The Niles Weekly Register, Volume 52 of June 3, 1837 alleges that the Oneida Democrat attributed the phrase to a Native American Indian and told a humorous story that allegedly passed between a white man and a Native American Indian that resulted in the idiom.  This story first appears in print in 1837 but is repeated with multiple variations to the story throughout the 1840s with the story happening in a number of states, and the companion bird sometimes being a crow and sometimes an owl.  Based on this, the story is most likely an urban myth of the time period.

Prior to the publication of Captain McClintock’s story in book form in 1841, the complete story was printed in serialized form in Atkinson’s Casket of 1835, with attribution to the Portland Advertiser newspaper. In fact, in Atkinson’s Casket, Chapter III (where the idiom is used), is introduced in this way:

All who have heretofore read the “Sleigh Ride” and “The Courting” will need no further recommendation of the following, than to be informed that it is from the same gifted pen from the Portland Advertiser.

Since the idiom was used in this story dating back to at least 1835, it is reasonable to peg it to at least 1800 in light of the fact that Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published date for this idiom than the one in the Atkinson’s Casket edition of 1835.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »