Why is it called cold turkey?
Do you ever wonder about that? By now it’s a commonly used term and everyone knows what it means, but hardly anyone knows where it originates from.
There are countless other phrases like “the cat’s out of the bag” or “couldn’t give a rat’s ass” or “you have a small penis” that everyone uses without knowing the history behind it. Was there a cat-trafficking epidemic in the late 19th century where bagged felines were smuggled away and sold on shady street corners? Perhaps the rectums of rodents once used as currency to buy those kidnapped kittens. And then due to a coordinated effort in early 1897 by the Volunteer Fire Department and a group of single, middle-aged women, the cat-smuggling industry was broken wide open and along with the exposure of various criminal organizations, tens of thousands of cats set free from their bags. Thus coining the term, “the cat’s out of the bag.” Also, due to this, the black market for household pets crashed, never to recover, and the buttholes of rats became utterly worthless. Which led to people saying that they “couldn’t give a rat’s ass” when they couldn’t find value in something.
I made all of this up, but I’d be willing to bet a small vermin’s behind that it’s pretty close to what actually happened. With stories like these, it makes you wonder about all those other little sayings that you use on a day to day basis, doesn’t it? The mystery behind the everyday words makes them entirely beautiful.
Of course, you can just Google the meanings of idioms, but where’s the fun in that?
As for “cold turkey,” I’ll admit, it took me a bit longer for me to figure out what happened to make this into a commonly used phrase, but I think I got it.
You see, turkeys are unusually smart. Back when the United States was still new, turkeys were often dismissed as dumb and clumsy by the people, only useful in that they are edible. The turkeys realized that they needed to change the public perception before they were hunted to extinction. For that, they needed a human advocate. After much research and many deaths, the turkeys found Benjamin Franklin. They recognized how popular and influential ol’ Ben was and actively recruited him to their cause.
Initially reluctant, Ben Franklin was eventually won over due to their charm, their countless touching stories of shot family members and monthly donations of their most crippled. Benjamin Franklin began the attempt to rebrand the turkeys, calling them noble and powerful creatures who deserved to be treated with respect. When there was a call to decide on the national bird, Ben Franklin campaigned hard for it to be the turkey. Believing that he had Congress in his pocket, Franklin assured the turkeys that they would become the national bird and their image would forever change for the better. During the weeks of deliberation, he repeatedly guaranteed that they would prevail. Hope blossomed in their hearts and tentatively, they believed him. They believed him.
When the bald eagle was chosen, the turkeys were furious. It was the ultimate betrayal. When Benjamin Franklin went to the turkey coalition to apologize and explain, they refused to talk to him or even acknowledge him at all. They turned their backs to him and flew away (yes, they can fly). They cut him off utterly and completely. They gave him the cold shoulder.
Benjamin Franklin himself became angry when every turkey refused to talk to him, even the ones he thought had become his friends. After several weeks, the anger and frustration grew, along with the sneaking suspicion that he had imagined the whole thing and was going insane. All of those emotions finally boiled over when he didn’t receive his cripple turkey at the end of the month and he decided to retaliate. Although Thanksgiving was already celebrated by many, Benjamin Franklin used his influence to introduce the tradition of eating a turkey during the holiday, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of turkeys each year and driving the rift between turkey and humankind even further apart. Later, Franklin admitted he overreacted a bit.
Over the many decades, the turkeys continually refused to communicate with humans, until slowly knowledge of their intelligence faded out from public memory. They endured Thanksgiving year after year, most humans never understanding the suffering they cause. And eventually, the tragic history behind “cold turkey” was lost, but the meaning remained. To abruptly end and simply endure the following pain.
Goddamn you Benjamin Franklin. Goddamn you.