A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What's the origin of the expression "cold turkey"?

March 12, 1993

Dear Cecil:

Why, when someone stops using a drug abruptly, do they call it going "cold turkey"?

Cecil replies:

Some say it's because heroin addicts undergoing withdrawal are so pale and covered with goose bumps their skin looks like that of an uncooked turkey. As with most good stories, however, this appears to be crapola. "Cold turkey," which dates from 1916, is related to "talk turkey," meaning to cut the comedy and talk frankly. Similarly, when you go cold turkey, you dispense with the preliminaries and get right down to it. Why turkey rather than crested titmouse, say, is not clear, but perhaps it was because the turkey, as your standard U.S. game fowl, recalled the no-bull simplicity of frontier life.

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