Cold Turkey

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Cold Turkey : Phrases


The state addicts are in when withdrawing from drug addiction. Also, predominantly in the U.S.A., plain speaking.


Of course, the term 'cold turkey' in the literal 'cold meat' sense appears many times in recipes - 'cold turkey salad' etc. Neither of the meanings above appear to have any allusory link back to that.

The most common use of the term is now in relation to drug withdrawal. The earliest reference I can find to that is from the Canadian newspaper The Daily Colonist, October 1921:

"Perhaps the most pitiful figures who have appeared before Dr. Carleton Simon..are those who voluntarily surrender themselves. When they go before him, they [drug addicts] are given what is called the 'cold turkey' treatment."

The 1936 edition of American Speech gave a definition of the term:

"Cold turkey, treatment of addicts in institutions where they are taken off drugs suddenly without the 'tapering off' which the addict always desires."

The 'plain talking/getting down to business' meaning of the term is largely limited to the U.S.A. The English newspaper The Daily Express explained that for an English audience in a January 1928 edition:

"She talked cold turkey about sex. 'Cold turkey' means plain truth in America."

There are many uses of the term in U.S. citations from the early 20th century. For example, this from The Oakland Tribune, August 1915:

"This letter talks cold turkey. It gets down to brass."

In the state of drug withdrawal the addict's blood is directed to the internal organs, leaving the skin white and with goose bumps. It has been suggested that this is what is alluded to by 'cold turkey'. That seems doubtful. It is much more likely that the allusion is to the direct, no nonsense approach indicated by the earlier 'plain speaking' meaning of the term.

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