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Of bibbins and bubbly-jocks

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The English nickname for the French as we all know is Frog or Froggy. It is intended to be a humorous take on their tendency to eat things the average Brit would prefer not to. Their name for us is Rosbif (roastbeef) and perhaps also reflects the stereotype Englishman bloated with meat, cholesterol, gout and wine of George Cruikshank, James Gillray and other. But these are national stereotypes and therefore different.

But why English “turkey” (the bird) and French “dinde”? It all dates back to the bird’s discovery in America and Mexico the 16th century, following various routes back to Europe. And given the multiple rabbit holes available the present article will be necessarily short and lacking in depth.

In brief, the turkey was believed (wrongly) to be a guineafowl, and these were believed to come from Turkey, so from Turkey bird to turkey was no great leap. Why then the French dinde, or poulle d’Inde, chicken of India? All the more so since they already had one of these dating back at least as far as 1380. The then poulle d’Ynde was the guinea fowl and Ynde was used to designate Abyssinia where it did come from. By 1600 dinde referred to the turkey and the guinea fowl was renamed from the Portuguese pintada (for “painted” bird) as pintade and the Portuguese itself shifted to galinha-d’angola, but I digress.

So far we have two “origins”: Turkey and India. Let’s assume that “India” is that vague otherwhereness which might be influenced from east or west, but doesn’t actually reach the country we know now. Why then the Scandinavian “Kalkun”esque names: Kalkun (Danish, Norwegian, Votic…), Kalkunlane (Estonian), Kalkkuna (Finnish), Kalkon (Swedish), Kalkoen (Dutch) and Kalakutas (Lithuanian)? Because they presumably adopted it from mid-16th-C German Indianisch / Kalekuttisch / Welsch hün (the latter exporting to Pennsylvania Dutch as welschhinkel or foreign chicken!), before they dropped it themselves and, after a brief flirt with turkische henne, opted for Truthuhn, said to come from the trut-trut call hens use to call their chicks (ditto put for its other name of Pute, but I remain sceptical about both these explanations), the resulting muddle of which possibly influenced Latvian’s Tītars where Latvian linguists hint it might have gone the way of “turcēni” but was waylaid. No comment. And what about the bizarre Bavarian Kaudara? Your guess is as good as mine. However, the hint was there: Kalkun < Kalekutt < কলিকাতা, or, for those who’ve forgotten their Bengali, Kôlikata or Calcutta. Which is not where they come from.

Nor do they come from Peru, which is what the Brazilians call it. The Spanish take a different tack: pavo, derived from Latin Pavus, meaning peacock, which it ain’t.

So roughly speaking, we have the northern part of Europe calling it Calcutta, an area of historically non-Protestant influence using India – Polish indyk, Russian индейка (indeyka), Georgian ინდაურ (indaur), Breton: yar-indez (Indian chicken); Catalan: gall dindi salvatge (wild Indian chicken); Basque: indioilo (Indian chicken); Sicilian: tacchinu (whatever that means, but possibly related to the Emiliano-Romagnolo tòch) or jaddu d'India (Indian cock), Armenian: Հնդկահավեր (Hndkahaver, where the first three letters seem to represent India), Sardinian dindu – and only one Turkey.

Only? There’s Welsh and Gaelic, obviously, with Twrci and Turcaí, and then the bloody Scots have to come up with Bubbly-jock, followed dubiously by Bosnian ćurka (pronounced kurka, are they on the fence?) and Czech krocan (have they fallen off?) which aren’t really convincing either way. But there is one more: Hindi-speakers call it तुर्की (turkī) and, of course, Turks call it hindi

To the homelands then: Mexico (and Ignoring north America with its hundreds of Indian languages vying for confusion: Navajo tązhii, Cherokee ᎬᎾ [pronounced gvna, as if you hadn’t guessed], Cheyenne Ma'xêhë'ne…) with the Nāhuatl language where it’s called huehxōlōtl and, incidentally, producing the Mexican name guajolote. Were things that easy… anyone looking at the name will automatically think of axolotls, as well they should, because I suspect we have a whammy coming up… Axōlōtl is traditionally understood to come from atl meaning water and xolotl meaning monster but since we (they) also have Xōlōtl, a god of miscellaneous manifestations including that of duality, the “monster” might simply be the “otherness” of its surprising metamorphosis from aquatic larval form to terrestrial adult land salamander... Back to the beast: huehxōlōtl. Related to the god Xōlōtl or not? His name has many associations: twin, dog, slave, double ear of corn, from one of his dodgy disguises at a critical point in creation; he was hunchbacked, god of fire and lightning, protector of albinos and hairless dogs, occasional axolotl himself and also a hint of a bat. What to make of the name though? Let’s imagine that the term xōlōtl does represent some combination of duality, monstrosity, deformity, let’s also imagine a familiarity with turkey sexuality. During the breeding season, the snood, the fleshy flap of tissue on top of the beak will engorge with blood and swell like a penis. Could this, along with the saggy “chin” or wattle (which might or might not look like a double ear of corn) be the monstrous duality? Another track is an alternative (plural) of the turkey’s name: huehhuehxōlōtl, and since huehue can also mean "old", maybe it’s simple the mass of wrinkles that represents old age?

I don’t know, and I’ll probably never find out. So don’t take this too seriously, it was just for fun.

One more: Ligurian: bibbin… Where on earth did they get that one?

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Guest Wednesday, 20 March 2019
You are here: Home Frogologoblog Simon Of bibbins and bubbly-jocks