Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Thursday is Thanksgiving, and I've been writing about fish all week! Let's talk turkey.

The Hebrew word for turkey is tarnegol hodu תרנגול הודו - often shortened to hodu הודו. Hodu is the Biblical word for India, and therefore tarnegol hodu means "Indian chicken". This is the name for the bird in many European languages - Russian indiuk, Polish indyk, French dinde and Yiddish indik. Even in Turkey they call the bird hindi. Of course, the bird originated in North America; so why the association with Turkey or India?

The English name "turkey" comes from an incorrect identification of the bird with an African guinea-fowl, which entered Europe through Turkey. The connection to India was due to another misunderstanding - as is well known, the first Europeans who reached the Western Hemisphere thought they were in India (hence the name Indians for the native peoples.)

As I mentioned earlier, Hodu is the Biblical name for India, appearing once, in the first verse of Esther. The name derives from the Persian word Hindu, but as often happens, the nun dropped out in Hebrew. The area called Hodu actually refers to the regions near the Indus river (actually in today's Pakistan, not India), from where it gets its name. The river and the region are known in Sanskrit as Sind, but the Persian "h" is cognate with the Sanskrit "s".

An interesting coincidence is that we eat turkey on Thanksgiving, and a common biblical Hebrew term for "Give thanks!" is hodu. We see that phrase often in Tehilim (Psalms), and a related verse in Divrei HaYamim I (16:8) starts the Pesukei D'Zimra section of the morning prayers (for Nusach Sefard and Edot HaMizrach). Because of this, people will often mark the schedule by the start of "hodu".

Uri Orbach quotes a saying of religious soldiers:
שש בבוקר הודו באוויר
6 AM and hodu's in the air
meaning they will start their prayers exactly on time.

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