Cold turkey

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Senior Member
português, Brasil
It's common to hear the expression cold turkey related to people who've been trying to quit an addiction, but I am not sure I understand its correct meaning and how I can use this expression in a sentence. My question is: what exactly does the expression cold turkey describe? The symptoms? The attitude? How is it generally used in a sentence? For example, I seem to have heard or read somewhere "going cold turkey". Is it a common expression? Does it describe the act of quitting an addiction abruptly or the state of being suffering the consequent symptoms of a sudden interruption of the drug use?

Thank you in advance for any help.
  • cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    Oi Macunaíma,

    The Online Etymological Dictionary offers this:

    "without preparation," 1910; narrower sense of "withdrawal from an addictive substance" (originally heroin) first recorded 1921. Cold turkey is a food that requires little preparation, so "to quit like cold turkey" is to do so suddenly and without preparation.

    That's a nice succinct explanation, and it supports your suppositions.


    Senior Member
    That was just too easy. Here are a few other opinions. They all agree that it is a sudden withdrawal.

    To "go cold turkey," meaning to stop using an addictive drug suddenly and completely, usually incurring extremely unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal, is a phrase which dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. "Cold turkey" is actually based on another colloquial phrase, "to talk turkey" (sometimes "to talk cold turkey"), meaning to face unpleasant truths squarely.

    "Cold turkey" is a term describing the actions of a person who gives up his habit or addiction at a single moment, rather than through gradually easing the process through tapering off or supplemental medication. The term allegedly derives from the comparison of a cold turkey carcass and the state of a withdrawing addict. It is often preceded by the word 'going', as 'going cold turkey'.

    [from the gooseflesh that is one of the Withdrawal Symptoms of Heroin or Morphine] abrupt withdrawal from narcotics, when Physical Dependence is present, so that the addict goes through the withdrawal symptoms. . .

    WR English definition of Gooseflesh:
    reflex erection of hairs of the skin in response to cold or emotional stress or skin irritation

    . 1

    Australian Australia
    I will vote for a combination of rapid and with little preparation as being the main parent of the phrase but I think that the physical appearance is too much of a coincidence to not have been considered when the phrase was coined.



    Senior Member
    American English
    "Going cold turkey" is by far and away the most common usage. But the phrase can also be used without "going." (It can stand alone.)

    --Are you still smoking?
    --No, I finally quit, cold turkey.

    --I tried tapering off gradually, but that didn't work.
    --What did?
    --Cold turkey.

    --I figured cold turkey was the only method that would finally work. (The gerund "going" is suppressed but understood.)


    Senior Member
    I still have some questions about how to use ' cold turkey' in a sentence and I wonder if the following sentences sound ok.

    I have been putting on a lot of weight, so I have decided to quit cold turkey on sweets, such as cholocate and ice cream.

    I don't want to die of liver cancer, so I will quit drinking cold turkey.

    I am addited to computer games, so I will go cold turkey on computer games.
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