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A friend recently suggested I share my knowledge of multiple languages and write a weekly blog on one word. On many occasions this friend has heard me mention a word's etymological background and compared its meaning to other languages. Now, I have made a promise to write a blog every fortnight on this subject.

Last Thursday, as I prepared the annual Thanksgiving meal and stuffed the turkey, a question arose in my mind. Why, in the English language, is this bird called a turkey? Could it have anything to do with the land of the Turks? That question led to a discovery that the bird had been misnamed. It turns out that a similar African bird, the crested guinea fowl with dark grey plumage and a black toupé, caused the confusion.

In the 16th century, Portuguese traders brought the guinea fowl to Europe by way of Turkey. Without knowing its real name, the English called the bird a Turkish chicken. A century later in North America, the first English settlers, upon seeing an indigenous bird, thought it was of the same species as their European fowl. They called it turkey.

The Turks, I learned, call this bird hindi, the Turkish name for India. I now understand why the French call it dinde. Add an apostrophe after the ‘d,’ and you have d’inde, meaning from India. But dinde refers to the hen only. As is usual, the French must differentiate between a male, a female, and offspring: the male is a dindon, the young the dindonneaux.

While writing this blog, a Swedish girlfriend happened to call.

“What,” I asked her “do the Swedes called a turkey?”

Kalkon,” she told me.

After we hung up, I wondered if kalkon also had something to with India. Not surprisingly it did. Kalkon, from the Low German kalkünischer Hahn, means rooster from Calicut, anglicized for Kozhikode, a coastal city in Southern India.

However, in modern German, any connection of the word 'turkey' to India was lost. As a native German speaker, I have always known the bird as Truthahn, pronounced tʁuːtˌhaːn. ‘Trut,’ from the Low Middle German drōten, means to threaten, and ‘hahn’ translates into rooster. How odd, I thought. The Germans named the turkey for its aggressive behavior: Truthahn, a threatening rooster.

Guinea fowl, hindi, dinde, kalkon, truthahn! Yet the Thanksgiving bird in my kitchen did not come from Africa, India, or Turkey, was not threatening and turned out to be delicious.

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  • Writer's pictureIlona Duncan

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

The corona virus has forced most of us to stay home. If you’re like me, you miss social contact: a latte at a café, an outing to a sporting event, a restaurant meal, a concert. When people can travel freely again, will you take that coveted vacation? Personally, I no longer feel the need to tour our planet. Since childhood, I have been privileged to travel and have seen most of the world. Still, when the pandemic allows free movement again, I would welcome a short trip to stay in a hotel for the weekend. Germans have a noun for it: Tapetenwechsel, which means 'change of wallpaper'!

Recently, countless people had to cancel travel plans. Airlines grounded their fleets, ships remained in harbor, hotels closed their doors. Some of you might have anticipated a first trip abroad or a honeymoon on an island resort. Even a drive to the mountains or to the seashore became unwise. Where would you stay or eat? And the National and State Parks closed.

In time the restrictions will be lifted, and people will again visit places on their bucket list. But, for now, confined as we are, why not get a copy of At Home On the Road, and join two-world travelers on a journey through North America?

In 1999, my husband Ian and I sold our home in Miami, bought a converted bus, and became nomads. For over two years we enjoyed a thrilling adventure. We crossed rivers and meadows, drove through deserts and over mountains, sought wildlife on lonely roads in rough country. If you read my book, you will experience a couple's daily routine, laugh at our inevitable disputes, smile at our countless mishaps. When Ian and I made our journey, we traveled without the luxury of GPS, relied on the AAA American Road Atlas, and dealt with rudimentary cell phone coverage. And yes, confinement tested our marriage. But two years of experiencing nature's spiritual and uplifting beauty only deepened the relationship that Ian and I have.

If you read At Home on the Road, it might inspire you to seek the freedom of a nomadic life. Except for stopping for gas and groceries, you will be able to outwit the current virus or those to come. Wherever you go, I wish you the best of journeys.


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  • Writer's pictureIlona Duncan

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

Writers of Fame and Honor

Big libraries can be intimidating, the quantity of books overwhelming. Yet I find peace amidst books and could lose myself in a library. Over the years, books have helped me dream, nourished my curious mind, let me visit exotic places, taught me about history and diverse cultures. In my youth, growing up in post-World War II Germany, I hoped to read every volume in my hometown’s small library. Then one day I realized that, even if I borrowed two per week, it might take years before I could read them all. When I left home, my passion for books remained. As I moved from one country to the next, books were my trusted companions and still are today.

Times were different when I grew up. Reading was a pastime before the information age, with Cable TV, video games, the endless choice of entertainment on electronic devices, and the Internet. For multitudes, bookstores and libraries have lost their appeal, and even become places where so many people end up feeling lost. They wonder what to read and where to start.

What is my advice? Ignore the latest bestseller. Search for one of the Nobel laureates in literature. The coveted prize, first awarded to the French poet Sully Prudhomme in 1901, has since honored 116 writers from forty different countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.

You may be familiar with the British Rudyard Kipling (1907) and John Galsworthy (1932), or the American Pearl S. Buck (1938) and Ernest Hemingway (1954). Even Boris Pasternak (1958) and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1970) of the Soviet era might be known names. But some foreign works might be unknown to you. Two Scandinavian female writers have intrigued me. As a child I learned about nature in The Wonderful adventures of Nils by the Swedish Selma Lagerlöf (1909). Later I read the historic novels of Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset (1928). In her books she described Nordic life during the Middle Ages. A favorite author of mine is the German Thomas Mann. He received the Nobel Prize in 1929 for The Buddenbrooks, a novel about the rise and fall of a 19th century merchant family in Lübeck. And I suggest reading Billards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll (1972). I admire this writer who exposed the aftermath of the Nazi regime in Germany. Or check out the Hungarian concentration camp survivor, Imre Kertész (2002). He wrote about a person’s helplessness against a totalitarian regime. Among French authors who received the Nobel Prize, I would select François Mauriac(1952) for Thérèse Desqueyroux, and Albert Camus (1957) for L’Étranger (The Stranger).

Literature, like all the arts, follows what Germans call Zeitgeist; and time’s spirit teaches, provokes, entertains. No reason to feel lost in a library. Look for a Nobel Prize winner.

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