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Thankgiving (November 23rd)

by Andrew Purvis

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, people in America are thinking about getting together with family and catching up on all that has happened over the last year. They'll gather around the dinner table and eat meals of mashed potatoes, gravy, cranbery sauce, and, of course, turkey. Believe it or not, all of this talking and turkey has nothing to do with the phrase "let's talk turkey." In this edition of Talk the Talk we'll look at this saying and others associated with communicating. Heck, we'll even explain what "talk the talk" means!

The history of "talk turkey" is obscure, and there are quite a few stories out there that try to explain it, but probably none of them is entirely correct. If someone says he wants to "talk turkey," he means he wants to have a direct conversation about what really matters. The most popular story about how this phrase entered the English language centers on hunting in America during the nineteenth century. Supposedly, Americans would sometimes work with native (American Indian) hunting companions, and at the end of the day the two hunters would divide the birds they had killed. The American would take the turkeys and offer the Native American the other birds (various stories suggest that these were crows or buzzards). The Native Americans would sometimes complain that their hunting companions would always take the better birds but "never talk turkey" for the Native Americans." In other words, if the Americans had been fair-if they had "talked turkey"-they would have taken the other birds some of the time. As with many such stories, this probably has a grain of truth to it, but people added to it over time.

Americans love to talk. Look at our politicians. They make a lot of promises, and these promises tend to change depending on who they are speaking to. Of course, their opponents will often challenge them to "put their money where their mouth is." Or tell them, "You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?"With so much interest in talking, the English language (both American English and British English) is full of words to describe different kinds of talking.

When a group of friends get together, they may just chat, shoot the breeze, or have a bull session. If they don't like someone, they may start some gossip about that person by telling tales about his behavior. This is rumor-mongering at its worst, full of backbiting and hyperbole.

There are some people out there who just have the gift of gab. They will opine about any subject at any time; engage complete strangers in far-ranging debates; and comment, editorialize, expostulate, and yack until no one will listen.

Business meetings are full of times when someone with a new idea will run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. Maybe management will kick it around for a while to see if it has any merit. Some people believe so strongly in their ideas that they sound as if they are preaching when they talk about them, and if they're lucky, they'll be preaching to the choir. Of course there are cases in which managers have listened to someone who shoots from the hip and gets it wrong, only to end up losing the company's money. Maybe the manager will only have words with the employee, but more likely he'll read him the riot act (and you bet he'll curse a few times in all of that).

There are so many other cases I would love to cover here, but I just don't have the space this week. Perhaps, if you email me some ideas, we can open a dialogue, engage in some give-and-take, and negotiate (without any double-talk, please) a future article.

To talk repetitively or about apparently unconnected topics. Someone who is babbling can also be said to be "rambling."
Unkind or untrue comments made about someone who is not present. This is usually done to harm the person's reputuation.
Bull session
This is an informal gathering in which people talk about whatever is happening in their lives. Many times these gatherings take place late at night and with plenty of food and/or alcohol present.
To talk informally. You may call someone on the telephone "just to chat" and see how they are doing. People chat over meals with friends (though if it is a date, it may be "small talk" - chatting about small things to hide nervousness).
To use profanity or vulgarity. How acceptable cursing-also referred to as "swearing"-is in a given situation will depend on many factors. When in doubt, don't do it.
A (sometimes) structured argument in which all sides take turns stating their positions and arguing against other opinions. In politics and high school or college competitions, debates are formal.
A discussion between at least two people. This should not be confused with a duologue, which is a dialogue between exactly two people.
Deceiving or inaccurate language. Salespeople often use double-talk to help make their sales. Learn to sort out the truth from the lies before going to buy a car or you may get double-talked into a bad deal.
To express an opinion strongly, often in writing. When someone is said to be editorializing in speech, they are said to be "up on a soapbox."
To use reason in an attempt to change someone's mind. In more general terms it can also mean to discuss something in depth.
Gift of gab
The gift of gab is the ability to talk about anything. Many people say that this is not a gift to the people who have to listen to the talker.
An exchange of ideas and opinions, usually with the goal of trying to resolve differences between the people talking.
A rumor about someone. Usually the information contained in gossip is very personal, and sometimes (OK, usually) it's false.
Have words
To express anger at or disappointment with another person.
Exaggeration, usually extreme.
Kick around
To discuss the merits of something. If a group is kicking around an idea, they are discussing what is good and what is bad about it.
To discuss with the goal of trying to resolve differences. To try to reach a compromise.
To state an opinion.
To talk passionately about one's beliefs or ideas. People who are said to be preaching are usually considered annoying.
Preach to the choir
To try to convince people who don't need convincing. The logic of the phrase is that the people in a church choir already believe in what the preacher is saying.
Put your money where your mouth is
This is a challenge to someone who makes bold claims. It suggests that you don't believe them or that you doubt the strength of their convictions, and they need to prove what they claim.
Read the riot act
To reprimand someone, usually for being unruly. This refers to the eighteenth-century British law that required people to disperse when they gathered illegally.
An unproven or untrue claim or piece of information about someone. People often use use rumors to damage someone else's reputation.
Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes
Make a suggestion and see who likes it. Sometimes people leave out the second part, only saying that they will "run (something) up the flagpole."
Shoot the breeze
To talk casually. If you're "shooting the breeze" with someone, you're chatting casually with them.
Shoot from the hip
To talk without thinking through what you are saying. This phrase is connected to the mythology of the Old West (more on that in another article), and it suggests that a person would fire a gun without aiming first.
Talk the talk
Traditionally, someone who "talks the talk" knows what to say to impress people. In our current context (this series of articles), it refers to learning how to speak American English . . . but you knew that one.
Telling tales
"Telling tales," or "telling tall tales" as it is sometimes said, means talking in exaggerated or completely untrue terms. American literature is full of "tall tales."
Up on a soapbox
Freely expressing personal opinions. In the past, on of the ways someone could address a crowd was to stand on a crate, or, in the case of this phrase, a soapbox. That allowed the speaker to be standing above the listeners. This has historically been associated with labor union organization or similar movements (as opposed to such things as marketing).
To talk a lot. People who yack tend not to stop talking.

Andrew Purvis is an M.A. student in literature at Claremont Graduate University. He has spent a total of five years tutoring English and teaching public speaking. In 1994 he started teaching himself web design. Now he brings this all together as the editor for iStudentCity.

This week: Idioms and Imagery
Back Issues
Table Talk

Shop Talk

Talk Turkey

Talk The Vote


Spanish Roots: Why American English Is American (II)

Talking College

Native Roots: Why American English Is American (I)

"Here in my car, I feel safest of all."

Life in 'Hell'

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