Welcome to using the English language, a language so complicated and convoluted that it even breaks its own rules more often than it follows them, which makes it difficult, even for native speakers. This is partially due to the fact that English is a mashup of several different languages and borrows its etymology, definitions, spellings, and grammar concepts from all of the various languages that have donated components that make up what we call modern English today.
One such word that is completely borrowed from the etymological additions that other languages make to English is the singular noun “turkey.” This new word has a very complicated background and history, and as such, its grammatical forms and pluralization do not follow any typical rules that most words follow. In this article, let’s explore the proper use of our word of the day, turkey, its plural form, look for its synonyms, and learn its context.
Your writing, at its best
Compose bold, clear, mistake-free writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant
To first understand a word, its history, and how to use it properly, it is important to first define what it actually means. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word turkey can be defined as “a large North American gallinaceous bird (Meleagris gallopavo) that is domesticated in most parts of the world,” but also adds some more colloquial or slang terms. Turkey can also mean “a failure or flop, especially a theatrical production that has failed,” “three successive strikes in bowling,” or “a stupid, foolish, or inept person.” It’s important to note here that as we are discussing this, it has nothing to do with the Turkish language that uses vowel harmony and is commonly spoken in Istanbul, nor are we discussing the Arabic language.
The plural of turkey can be complicated due to assumptions made about the plural endings of nouns with “y” as the last vowel and also with the fact that turkey can be both countable and uncountable.
What does it mean for a noun to be countable or uncountable? Simply put, a countable noun is a noun that can have a countable quantity. For example, in this case, “turkey” is countable when used to describe the actual bird that looks like a chicken that everyone eats for Thanksgiving. You can say, “I count fourteen turkeys.” However, when used to describe the actual meat of the bird, like sandwich meat, it is uncountable, and you would instead say you have lots of turkey.
The only correct plural of the noun turkey is “turkeys.” Unlike many words, it actually does adhere to standard rules for forming plurals, and the only confusion lies in the fact that many words that do end in “y” do actually add “ies” as the plural nouns, unlike nouns that end in consonants.
There is also a common misconception that the plural of turkey should have an apostrophe, as in “turkey’s,” but this is also not the correct plural suffix. The word can, however, be used in the genitive case.
What Does Turkey Mean in Slang?
As mentioned above, the word turkey does have slang meanings as well. Culture drives language, not the other way around, and in many cultures, words take on extra meanings as a sort of slang or colloquialism. For example, the word turkey has several meanings that, in different contexts, may be used to mean different things.
The word turkey can be used to describe someone who is acting like a fool in an almost derogatory way.
It can also be used to describe someone who is just naive, but in a cute way, e.g., “that baby is a turkey.” This has fewer derogatory connotations.
A turkey can also be used to describe three consecutive strikes in bowling, and this is actually a good thing, not a bad thing.
Finally, turkey can also describe a complete failure, like a project or an idea, but is specifically used to describe a theatrical performance that completely falls apart and gains no following or traction.
The History and Origin of the Word
The best way to really learn a word and to answer the questions of what and why is to explore that word’s etymology. The roots and origin story of any given word can open so many doors to understanding its current context in English. Because English borrows so many different words and concepts from other languages, it is important to look back. According to EtymOnline.com, the word turkey entered modern English in the middle of the sixteenth century and was used as a new way to describe the guinea fowl, or Numida meleagris, a bird that was imported from Madagascar via the country Turkey. The North American variety, the Meleagris gallopavo, was domesticated by the Aztecs and introduced to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors.
After the two varieties were distinguished, the name “Turkey,” which came from the fact that the bird originated in the country of the same name, was erroneously applied to the North American bird rather than the African bird, and the rest is history.
The name itself originated from the Medieval Latin word “turchia” and was originally just used to describe the country of the Turks. Although the etymology was mistakenly applied to the word used for the bird, it did stick. It should not be surprising, however, because much of English derives from Latin and Greek by way of other European languages like German, Spanish, and Italian.
Examples of the Word in Context
Another good way to learn a word and apply it to your own vocabulary is to hear it used properly. Reading it or hearing a word used in its correct context is a great way to learn how to use it yourself. Here are some common examples of the word turkey used in common conversation:
“We are having turkey this year for Thanksgiving, but we haven’t decided yet if we want it baked or fried.”
“There is a flock of turkeys in the field over to the left, can you see them?”
“He bowled two turkeys last game while I was studying Turkish grammar; no wonder his score was so high!”
Synonyms for Turkey
Exploring words with similar definitions is the last good way to really understand how to properly implement a word into your own vocabulary. Here are some common synonyms for the word turkey.
Goofball, used to describe a silly or foolish person.
Chicken, not a synonym but a word that describes a similar animal.
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that knowing your audience is an essential way to learn how to communicate well. Once you can really relate to them, the correct words will come easily. Good luck!
Kevin Miller is a growth marketer with an extensive background in Search Engine Optimization, paid acquisition and email marketing. He is also an online editor and writer based out of Los Angeles, CA. He studied at Georgetown University, worked at Google and became infatuated with English Grammar and for years has been diving into the language, demystifying the do's and don'ts for all who share the same passion! He can be found online here.