Why Is Abruptly Quitting Something Called "Going Cold Turkey"?

Michael Goyberg/iStock via Getty Images
Michael Goyberg/iStock via Getty Images

Around this time of year, we’re all loosening our belts and getting ready to gorge ourselves on hot, gravy-laden turkey. So we couldn’t help but wonder about things at the opposite end of the temperature spectrum: the “cold turkey” invoked when people up and quit some substance, behavior or habit suddenly. According to the OED, the phrase first appeared in print in the early 20th century, and was later tied specifically to quitting addictive substances in the 1920s, but its exact origin is unclear.

One possibility is that it evolved from the older idiom “talking turkey” (the origin of which is likewise elusive and might go back to the trading of fowl between Native Americans and European colonists, or this often-repeated story of a hunting trip), and sometimes appeared in the 19th and early 20th centuries as “talking cold turkey.” Since that phrase already meant “to speak frankly and plainly,” to quit something cold turkey might have naturally followed to mean abandoning something with similar directness.

Another possibility is that it stems from actual cold pieces of turkey. To make cold, leftover bits of the bird into a meal requires very little preparation, as does abruptly quitting something.

One final suggested origin is that the phrase comes from the similarities between a drug addict in the throes of withdrawal and a turkey’s carcass. Both can be clammy, pale and covered in goosebumps, which might have led someone to point out that a user who suddenly quit looked like a cold turkey.

Amazon's Best Black Friday Deals: Tech, Video Games, Kitchen Appliances, Clothing, and More

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What Is a Scuttlebutt, and Why Do We Like to Hear It?

Photo by Courtney Nuss on Unsplash

Casual conversation is home to a variety of prompts. You might ask someone how they’re doing, what’s new, or if they’ve done anything interesting recently. Sometimes, you can ask them what the scuttlebutt is. “What’s the scuttlebutt?” you’d say, for example, and then they’d reply with the solicited scuttlebutt.

We can easily infer that scuttlebutt is a slang term for information or maybe even gossip. But what exactly is scuttlebutt, and why did it become associated with idle water cooler talk?

According to Merriam-Webster, a scuttlebutt referred to a cask on sailing ships in the 1800s that contained drinking water for those on board. It was later used as the name of the drinking fountain found on a ship or in a Naval installation. The cask was known as a butt, while scuttle was taken from the French word escoutilles and means hatch or hole. A scuttlebutt was therefore a hatch in the cask.

Because sailors usually received orders from shouting supervisors, talking amongst themselves was discouraged. Since sailors could congregate around the fountain, it became a place to finally catch up and exchange gossip, making scuttlebutt synonymous with casual conversation. The scuttlebutt was really the only place to do it.

Nautical technology made the scuttlebutt obsolete, but the term endured, becoming a catch-all word for unfounded rumors.

The next time someone asks you what the scuttlebutt is, now you can tell them.

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