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Symbeline's avatar

Where does the expression ''quit cold turkey'' come from?

Asked by Symbeline (30503 points ) October 22nd, 2011

I don’t get this at all. Other than a turkey being swiftly killed, or it being cold from being dead, it doesn’t make much sense to me. Is it one of those bite the bullet things that has to do with killing something quick to get it over with, like in a slaughterhouse? And having that being applied as symbolism to an addiction? But why a turkey? Why not a cow or a chicken? We eat a lot more of those, at least in the Western hemisphere.
I really don’t get how this saying was first used as a way to describe calling it quits once and for all, right now and then. Does anyone know how this saying came to be?

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8 Answers

Aethelflaed's avatar

There are several explanations of the phrase’s origin:
A narrowing of the meaning “suddenly or without preparation,” from cold turkey being a dish that requires little preparation; originally used for heroin addicts.
From the American phrase talk turkey meaning “to speak bluntly with little preparation”.
Some believe the derivation is from the comparison of a cold turkey carcass and the state of a withdrawing addict — most notably, the cold sweats and goose bumps.
Related to the period after Christmas/Thanksgiving holidays where alcohol consumption rose – the end of the leftover cold turkey from the family dinners signaled the end of excessive alcohol intake.
(Copy/pasted straight from Wikipedia).

Symbeline's avatar

@Aethelflaed Holy shit. Dude, GA. That’s messed up. Cold sweats and goosebumps and all…never thought of that.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Symbeline Yeah, none of these make much sense to me. I mean, maybe over centuries of language changing (but I think it only dates back to 1916?), but I can’t say that even the third explanation would be where I’d first go to describe it. That seems more like a joke you come up with when having drinks with friends than something that becomes a full-on, household idiom…

Symbeline's avatar

The third, yeah. Seems like humour. But I read about heroin and its addicts and all, that could be applicable.

Or speak bluntly with little preparation. Turkeys are actually pretty hardcore birds. Don’t piss them off. But that has anything to do with quitting an addiction…the whole heroin thing you posted seems pretty logical, I guess. As it does with alcohol. Trust me. XD

I didn’t know that heroin addicts were fed turkey though….weird lol.

digitalimpression's avatar

“I once had an addiction to cold turkey. When I said I quit cold turkey, everyone asked me what I quit. I said.. cold turkey”

“The most common use of the term is now in relation to drug withdrawal. The earliest reference I can find to that is from the Canadian newspaper The Daily Colonist, October 1921:”

“Perhaps the most pitiful figures who have appeared before Dr. Carleton Simon..are those who voluntarily surrender themselves. When they go before him, they [drug addicts] are given what is called the ‘cold turkey’ treatment.”

Very strange.

zenvelo's avatar

Ever seen an uncooked, uncovered turkey in the refrigerator? That’s the way your skin is when going through withdrawal from addiction. It’s the way I was when I quit drinking, and again when I quit smoking cold turkey.

everephebe's avatar

quit raw/ raw quit = cold turkey

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