Go Cold Turkey

Also used:
Quit Cold Turkey,
Stop Cold Turkey

Meaning of Idiom ‘Go Cold Turkey’

To go cold turkey is to end an addiction such as smoking or drinking quickly and completely without cutting down gradually or tapering off; to stop doing something suddenly and completely, all at once without preparation or planning.

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To go or quit cold turkey was originally drug or alcohol slang but has now been extended to refer to any habit.

It is occasionally used to refer to the opposite, trying something new without any preparation.

You can ‘quit cold turkey’ or you can ‘quit something cold turkey.’

Examples Of Use

“I really wouldn’t advise you to go cold turkey. It’s much harder. You need to gradually reduce your smoking.”

“I quit drinking cold turkey ten years ago and I’ve never looked back.”

“I’ve never tried water skiing before so on my vacation I decided to try it cold turkey. I spent more time in the water than on the skis.”

“Nobody is saying we should stop using fossil fuels cold turkey but we definitely have to take serious steps now to curb our dependence on them.”


Used since the early 1900s.

The exact origin of this strange idiom is unknown. Why turkey, let alone cold turkey, should be associated with the sudden cessation of drug or alcohol use is a mystery.

It may be related, however, to the idiom ‘talk turkey’ which means to talk plainly, seriously and openly about an important issue.

To talk turkey, in regards to negotiations, can mean to “get down to business” and, although this is speculation, the idea of ceasing small talk and getting down to the brass tacks may have been extended to “getting down to the business of breaking a habit seriously.”

The word cold is often used in idioms to mean completely or entirely.

The supposed origin of “talk turkey” is fanciful at best.

It is often claimed to have come from the turkey’s role as an abundant food staple in early America of the 15th century, used by both Native Americans and white settlers as a trade item.

Thus, meetings between Native American’s and settlers often started with the phrase “are you here to talk turkey?”

It is sometimes said to have derived from a specific story about an Indian and a white man hunting together and then deciding which of them should have the turkey and which the other game bird.

It has been used as an idiom since at least the 1840s.

Example: “Enough pleasantries,” said Mr. Spears. “It’s time to talk turkey. What’s your price?”

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