People often use the idiom “quitting cold turkey” when they decide to abruptly stop doing something that is considered bad for them, such as smoking.
Example: Tim has been drinking soda for years, but he wanted to cut down the amount of sugar in his diet. Thus, he quit soda cold turkey and started drinking more water instead.
In other words, he quit immediately, right then and there.
The Origin of ‘Quit Cold Turkey’
The origin of the saying ‘quit cold turkey’ is not clear, however, there are a few explanations as to how this phrase may have originated. Let’s go over them:
One has to do with an older expression that goes ‘talking turkey’ or ‘talking cold turkey,’ which can mean one who speaks plainly, bluntly; the person gets directly to the point, without any nonsense. This sort of direct approach in speaking is similar to a person who quits something ‘cold turkey,’ they do so in a direct, no nonsense way. So it’s possible then, that this phrase derives from this older ‘talking turkey’ expression.
Another explanation is that cold turkey is a dish that is quick to make, taking little time to prepare. This, apparently, then started to be used as a metaphor for when somebody quits doing something abruptly, without much preparation. This explanation seems odd, though, because there are plenty of other dishes that are also quick to make and that require little preparation, so why would cold turkey be the one that becomes an expression?
Anyways, the earliest this phrase appears in print, in connection to stopping a bad habit, is said to be from The Daily Colonist newspaper, 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.”
- Due to recent health problems, he quit smoking cold turkey.
Note: The origins for many popular expressions are not known, like the one mentioned above. In cases like this, what I’ll sometimes do is include the theories that are floating around that talk about how a phrase may have originated.
If no theories are included on the idiom’s page, then I’ll at least try to include on the page the earliest known quote of the expression being used in print. These quotes can give an idea on how far back in history the expression goes.