Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Of Canaries and Turkeys

What drink would be "Wild Canary"?
I'm on holiday, which means being asked to explain whether there are canaries in the Canary Islands, or turkeys in Turkey. I'm giving you the benefit of my research, should you have similar need of it.

"Canary", as in the Islands, is derived from the Latin for 'dog' (canus, cani) on account of dogs (or sea lions, which apparently look like dogs to sailors) once found on the islands; while the English word for the country "Turkey" is derived from medieval Latin "Turchia", though "Turk" is also at the core of many other languages' reference to that area.

There are wild canaries in the Canaries (though not that I've seen), but the bird was named after the islands, not the other way around. It's a similar story with the turkey, though it was misnamed when mistaken for guineafowl, who were once called 'turkey fowl', being from Turkey, but get away scot-free every Thanksgiving.

Scot-free comes from the Old English for "exempt from royal tax" [that's enough etymology. Ed].
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