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 recently quit cold turkey because he wanted to cut down the amount of sugar in his diet. He now mostly drinks water. (In other words, he suddenly stopped drinking soda.)
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.
One idea is that cold turkey is a dish that takes little time to prepare. Since this food can be prepared fast and ready to eat, it later became a metaphor for when somebody quits doing something abruptly, with little preparation time. This explanation seems odd, though, because there are plenty of other foods that are also quick to make, so why is cold turkey the one that got an expression?
Another theory has to do with an older expression that goes ‘talking turkey’ or ‘talking cold turkey,’ which meant someone who spoke plainly to another. In other words, they got to the point of what they were saying without any nonsense in between. Later, this phrase ‘cold turkey’ started to be applied to situations where a person would stop doing something in a direct, no nonsense way.
The earliest I have seen the phrase ‘cold turkey’ in print in connection with stopping a bad habit is 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.”
1. Mikkelson, David. “Etymology of ‘Cold Turkey.’” Snopes, 25 March 2014, snopes.com/fact-check/turkey-and-the-straw-count/
- He used to smoke several times a week, but he quit cold turkey after he developed health problems.
- When I get nervous, I start biting my nails. However, once my fingers started hurting from doing this, I dropped it like a bad habit.
Tip: This phrase is related to animals, specifically turkeys. See our animal phrases page to see others like it. Or if you’re looking for a list common idiomatic expressions, try using the menu at the top. Simply choose a letter to begin exploring through the list.