“Cornucopia,” “Wishbone,” “Turkey”— Where Did These Words Come From?

If conversation lags during your Thanksgiving dinner, here are some fun facts to share with family and friends.

PilgrimsPilgrim. The word “pilgrim” can be traced back through French and Latin to mean “foreigner”. The pilgrims who left England were foreigners known as “Puritans” because they wanted to purify the Church of England from its many rituals.

Indian Corn. Native Americans taught the pilgrims how to grow different varieties of corn, not just yellow corn, but red, blue, pink, black, spotted, banded, striped . . . The pilgrims called this colorful and decorative corn, “Indian Corn”.

Cornucopia. The word “cornucopia” is from two Latin words “cornu” and “copia” meaning horn of plenty. The idea of a horn of plenty comes from Greek mythology. The horn was that of the goat nymph, Amalthaea, whose milk was fed to baby Zeus. In time, the cornucopia became a symbol of abundance.

Wishbone. The word’s origin is uncertain, but the concept of snapping a turkey’s wishbone might date back to the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization that used chicken wishbones to foretell the future. This practice was known as “alectryomancy” which can be loosely defined as rooster divination.


Turkey. Before the turkey got its name in America, it was known as “gallina de la tierra” — land chicken—and, most likely, Columbus’ crew named it. In England, the bird was called “turkey,” possibly because it came to England via Turkish explorers. When the pilgrims arrived, they dumped the Italian name.

Not so common is the word “Thanksgivikkuh.” The word means the rare convergence of the first day of Hanukkah falling on Thanksgiving Day. The year 2013 was a Thanksgivikkuh year.

And did you know that the American Thanksgiving holiday is because of an editor and author?

sarah-josepha-hale-1-sizedSarah Josepha Hale was a 19th-century poet, magazine editor and the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She petitioned the American government for almost 40 years asking them to officially declare a Thanksgiving Day. It was Abraham Lincoln who finally set the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. In 1941 America’s Congress made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.

So, thank you, Sarah Josepha Hale, for a day off to eat turkey and give thanks.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for you, my readers. I’m grateful that you take time to stop by and read my posts, grateful for your visits to my web page and Facebook Page, and grateful to count you as my friends.

I wish you and yours a very HAPPY THANKSGIVING! I’ll see you back here in December.


Are you on Facebook? Check out my page where I post daily articles and inspiration for writers. And while you’re there, I’d appreciate it if you’ll click on the “like” button near the top of the page. Thanks!


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Filed under thanksgiving, Uncategorized

2 responses to ““Cornucopia,” “Wishbone,” “Turkey”— Where Did These Words Come From?

  1. klelange

    Thank you for this info, Jean! You have a knack for sharing such wonderful things. 🙂 So thankful we’ve met through blogging. Enjoy your break and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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