Why do the French call a turkey an Indian?

Just before Christmas, we told you why we call a turkey a ‘turkey’, and why we call Turkey ‘Turkey’.

It turned out the bird was (indirectly) named after the country: it looks like the guinea fowl, which was imported to Europe via Turkey.

So why do the French call turkey ‘dinde’?

The French word is a contraction of ‘d’Inde’ – which means ‘from India’, or ‘from the Indies’.

So why India, not Turkey?

Turkey map

There are three possible reasons.

Firstly, the guinea fowl might have been imported to France via Ethiopia, which many French people at the time confused with India.

Secondly, there was a lazy generalisation at the time that anything imported from the East (via Turkey) actually originated in the Indies, a term which then referred to Asia.

The third reason is more convoluted. Turkeys, as we know, come from North America. When Columbus stumbled across America, he had actually set out to sail all the way around the world to find the Indies. So when early traders brought produce back from North America, people were confused and assumed it was from the Indies.

Language is malleable, so each of these reasons might have played a part in shaping why the French call a turkey an Indian.*

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*Oh, and by the way, the Portuguese call it a Peru. But that’s another story…