Where Does “Talk Turkey” Come From?

There’s lotsa turkey talk here on the blog today, so you can say we’re “talkin’ turkey.” This is a saying that means to speak frankly – to get right to the point, get down to business. Sometimes people use to mean “say something nice” or agreeable. But where does it come from? Turkeys gobble, that’s the only sound they can manufacture in their weird little turkey necks. How does talking turkey come from gobbling and gobbling and gobbling?

No one knows for sure, but there are some pretty solid theories. it was first recorded in 1824, although it was probably used in conversation much earlier. It could possibly go back to colonial times. According to these mid-19th century sources, it was originally used solely to express pleasant things – to speak highly of someone.

At some point later in the 19th century, “talk turkey” became “talk cold turkey.” This is when the meaning changed to “get down to business” or to speak seriously about a matter. it was abbreviated again back to “talk turkey,” while maintaining it’s new meaning.

Some believe it came out of conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table – when folks sat around giving thanks and speaking nicely of one another. Some also claim it came from early interactions with Native Americans. The supply of wild turkeys was a frequent point of conversation between Native Americans and settlers, and some say when Native met a colonist they would ask if they wanted to “talk turkey?”.

There’s another explanation which revolves around the tale of a colonist and a Native American who went hunting together. They bagged four crows and four turkeys. The colonist gave all the crows to the Native and kept all the turkeys for himself. The Native is supposed to have said “you talk all the turkey for you. Only talk crow for me.” Judging by colonist attitudes towards Native Americans, this one seems plausible.

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