Really. Let's talk turkey!
With holiday feasts waiting in the wings, its time to "talk turkey." Perhaps "cold turkey."
I must get my turkey facts straight. After my last meeting with a foul-tempered fowl, I have no desire to meet an angry, history-stickler turkey in a dark alley. Our first introduction happened several winters ago when I walked out my patio door, unaware a flock of wild turkeys pecked at acorns on the driveway. The feathered behemoths startled me as I startled them.
Off they flew with a wingspan recorded in my exaggerated memory as 10 feet. OK, so the wings may not be that long, but these birds are big. The impressive size is a combo of skinny legs, Sumo-wrestler build and a height larger than the buzzards I also see perched in nearby trees.
Through my decades of writing sense-of-place topics for this newspaper, I've reported on Mississippi's leadership role in the mid-1900s to stop the turkey from joining the extinction list. An estimated 300,000 turkeys roam the state today, including in South Mississippi's woods.
Before that encounter I wrote about wild turkeys from afar, never having the opportunity to observe one in its natural habitat. Like most Americans, I was only acquainted with the domesticated variety adorning the holiday dinner table.
No wild turkeys roamed in the Gulfport Bayou View neighborhood where I lived as a youngster, or in Biloxi's beachfront Saints neighborhood where a mad woman named Katrina smashed my holiday turkey platter. Nope, not until I stuck one foot on this woodsy Virginia hill, where I write this today, did I meet the wild ones face to face. What an unexpected delight.
When sunlight glistens, their feathers, feet, waddles and beards are spectacular colors. Their wingspan, as noted, is awesome. Their takeoff, which starts clumsily and turns somewhat graceful, are fascinating to watch. They are wary and cunning, unlike the reputations of their domesticated brethren.
Are we talking turkey now? I hope so.
To talk turkey
The expression "to talk turkey" means to discuss something frankly and to the point. Most histories link the expression to colonial times and a throwback to food bartering between colonists and Native Americans.
The most common version in modern times tells of an Indian and a European settler going hunting together. When it came time to divide up their spoils the European took two turkeys and gave the Native two crows (or buzzards or owls, by some accounts.) The indignant Indian quipped, "Now, let's talk turkey." In other words, quit the joking around and let's be serious.
To go cold turkey: Another expression is "cold turkey," as in "Today, I stopped drinking coffee cold turkey." This means to give up a habit at once and completely, rather than gradually. In the case of a drug addiction, the withdrawal can cause the person's skin to become white and with bumps that resemble a plucked turkey.
A turkey shoot: If a negotiation, sports game, battle, etc., is easily accomplished, it is sometimes referred to as a "turkey shoot." This is a situation when one person or group is obviously stronger than another, such as "With the Commodores missing star players their game against the Vikings was a turkey shoot." In days gone by, turkeys were so numerous that shooting into a flock yielded easy game.
To bowl a turkey: As any bowler will tell you three consecutive strikes is a "turkey." Why? Some phrase origin experts link this one to early holiday sweepstakes tournaments when the prized Thanksgiving and Christmas bird was offered as a trophy. When the bowler bowled three strikes, the watchers yelled "turkey!" and the bowler received a turkey for his skill.
A turkey tale
Have we talked enough turkey yet? Let's end with a tale published in this newspaper 100 years ago, when a turkey visitation to downtown Biloxi was so unexpected that the November 1915 visit warranted an article:
"While those who saw the famous American bird ... are inclined to the opinion that it had its 'nerve' to appear in a thickly populated section so close to Thanksgiving time and those who saw it say they can not help but admire its audacity."
Coming next week
As we continue to digest our Thanksgiving meal, we'll address one more turkey ponderable: Why is this North American native bird named after a Eurasian country?
Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or c/o Sun Herald Newsroom, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535-4567.