Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Turkey - Peru do Dia de Ação de Graças

Flavors of Brazil wishes our American readers a very happy "turkey day" today, and a great long weekend.

Although Thanksgiving isn't a holiday that's celebrated in Brazil, most Brazilians are familiar with the day and with the American tradition of eating turkey. (Not to worry, Brazil has plenty of statutory holidays, so the country is not suffering by missing one!) And Brazilians are certainly familiar with the traditional main course for the Thanksgiving feast - roast turkey.

Eating turkey is associated with holidays here in Brazil too, primarily with Christmas (Natal). I would guess that it's the size of a roast turkey that first linked it to large feasts and holiday celebrations, but the connection seems to be universal. Although it's not clear whether turkey was, in fact, served at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, the bird is one of the many culinary gifts of the New World, as it comes originally from Mexico and North America, and was eaten throughout the Americas before the arrival of Europeans in 1492.

The Portuguese word for the turkey is peru (just like the country). In 16th century Portugal, when turkeys were first brought to Europe, there was some confusion as to exactly where in the Americas they originated, and they were named after the Spanish colony of Peru. It's very interesting that the word for this bird in at least three languages, English, French and Portuguese, comes from its supposed country of origin and that none of these languages gets it right.

Portuguese certainly has it wrong with peru. In French, the word is dinde, which is a shortened form of poulet d'inde (meaning "chicken from India"). Wrong again. And of course, the English name, turkey, also points to the wrong country. I'm not a linguistic expert, but I don't think the bird is called "mexico" in any language, which is should be by geographic standards. I don't know if there are other languages in which the common turkey has a toponym, but I'm curious as to other geographical mistakes in naming the animal.

Enjoy your turkey today, or your peru or your dinde or whatever else you choose to call it. And save some leftovers for me.

(PS... I've looked around the internet a bit more since this article was published, and it turns out that in fact other languages have chosen a toponym when naming this bird, and they too get it wrong. In Turkish the word for turkey is hindi and in Hebrew it's hodu. Both of these words mean "India" in the respective tongues.)

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