The idiom “go cold turkey” means to stop doing something abruptly and completely, without any gradual reduction or preparation. It is most commonly used in reference to quitting addictive substances, such as drugs or alcohol, but it can also be used to describe quitting any habit, such as smoking or overeating.
The term “cold turkey” is thought to have originated in the early 20th century, and it is likely that it was first used in reference to the treatment of drug addiction. In the early days of addiction treatment, it was common practice to force addicts to quit their drug use abruptly and completely. This was a very harsh and often ineffective method of treatment, but it is likely that the term “cold turkey” originated from this practice.
The origin of “go cold turkey”
The earliest known use of the term “cold turkey” in print is in a 1921 article in the journal “The American Journal of Psychiatry.” The article describes a new method of treating drug addiction that involved forcing addicts to quit their drug use abruptly. The author of the article, Dr. William Silkworth, coined the term “cold turkey” to describe this method of treatment. Silkworth was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and devoted his life to helping addicts to quit the substances to which they were addicted.
The term “cold turkey” quickly became popular in the medical community, and it was soon being used to describe any abrupt and complete withdrawal from an addictive substance. In the 1950s, the term began to be used more widely in popular culture, and it eventually became an idiom that is used to describe quitting any habit, not just addictive substances.
But why “turkey” and why “cold”? There are two main theories:
The most popular theory about the origin of the idiom “go cold turkey” is that it comes from the combination of goose bumps and the “cold burn” that addicts experience when they quit their habit. This theory was popularized by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen in 1978.
Another theory, put forth by Tom Philbin in his book “Cop Speak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime,” is that the term may come from the cold, clammy feel of the skin during withdrawal, which is similar to the feel of a turkey that has been in a refrigerator.
Both of these theories are plausible, but there is no definitive answer to the question of where the idiom “go cold turkey” came from. It is likely that the term originated from a combination of factors, including the physical symptoms of withdrawal and the harsh methods that were once used to treat addiction.
Ultimately, the origin of the idiom “go cold turkey” is a mystery. However, the two theories discussed above provide some possible explanations for how the term came to be used
The use of the idiom “go cold turkey” in literature
The idiom “go cold turkey” has been used in a variety of literary works, including novels, short stories, and poems. Some of the earliest known uses of the term in literature can be found in works by American authors such as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.
In Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises,” the character Jake Barnes is a former soldier who is struggling with alcoholism. At one point in the novel, Jake decides to go cold turkey and quit drinking. He describes the experience as being “like being born again.”
Faulkner’s novel “Absalom, Absalom!” also features a character who goes cold turkey. The character of Quentin Compson is a young man who is deeply troubled by his family’s history of addiction. At one point in the novel, Quentin decides to quit drinking in an attempt to control his own addiction. However, his attempt to go cold turkey is unsuccessful, and he eventually relapses.
The idiom “go cold turkey” has also been used in more recent literary works, such as the novel “Trainspotting” by Irvine Welsh and the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. In “Trainspotting,” the character of Mark Renton is a heroin addict who decides to go cold turkey in an attempt to get clean. His experience is harrowing, but he eventually succeeds in quitting heroin. In “The Lottery,” the villagers of a small town go cold turkey on their annual tradition of stoning an innocent person to death. The story is a cautionary tale about the dangers of conformity and mob mentality.
The use of the idiom “go cold turkey” in popular culture
The idiom “go cold turkey” has also been used in a variety of popular culture works, including songs, music videos, films, advertising, and art. Some of the most famous examples of the idiom being used in popular culture include:
- The song “Cold Turkey” by John Lennon, released in 1969. The song is about Lennon’s own experience of quitting heroin.
- The music video for the song “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, released in 2002. The video features Eminem rapping about his struggles with addiction and his decision to go cold turkey.
- The film “Requiem for a Dream” (2000), directed by Darren Aronofsky. The film tells the story of four characters who are all struggling with addiction. One of the characters, Harry Goldfarb, tries to go cold turkey from heroin, but he is unsuccessful and eventually relapses.
- An advertising campaign for the nicotine patch brand NicoDerm CQ, which features the slogan “Quitting smoking cold turkey is hard. That’s why we’re here to help.”
- A painting by the artist Andy Warhol, which depicts a can of Campbell’s Soup with the words “Go Cold Turkey” written on it.