When a person suddenly quits a longstanding habit, he or she is said to have gone “cold turkey.” It could mean giving up cigarettes, trashy television, or, in the case of my young daughter, the pacifier. Here are three theories on how the expression may have come into existence.
According to The Phrase Finder, the term may have originated back in the early 20th century. Back then, people who were attempting to break a drug addiction and were suffering withdrawal symptoms were said to be going “cold turkey” because their skin was pale and bumpy, much like a de-feathered turkey’s.
I like that explanation, but it isn’t the definitive answer. More likely, according to several sites including WiseGeek and The Phrase Finder, is that the term came about because cold turkey is a simple, no-nonsense meal that requires no preparation. So, if someone were to quit a bad habit cold turkey, he or she would do so simply and without a lot of drama or fanfare.
There is one more possibility. The site Proverbium writes that historically, in the United States, there was often an end to “excessive alcohol consumption at the end of the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season.” Of course, this time of year is also when cold turkey leftovers are plentiful. “Hence, this memory association led people to use this expression when describing their sudden withdrawal from a certain habit.”
Got your own theory regarding “cold turkey”? Go ahead and leave a comment below.
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