Cold Turkey – Idiom, Origin and Meaning

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Idioms are a fun way to add some color and flair to any conversation or writing. That is, if you know what it means and how to use it. Take cold turkey as an example. In a literal context, gross. In a figurative one, it can mean giving something up immediately. But there’s more to it, and I’ll go over all the details you need to know right here.

What Does Cold Turkey Mean?

Cold Turkey Idiom Origin Meaning 1 1

Cold turkey is probably one of the most common idioms, and it describes the sudden and complete termination of a bad habit or addiction. These can be things like nicotine, alcohol, drugs, junk food, bad behavior and more.

The phrase is really popular with the concept of quitting smoking cigarettes. Most smokers can’t gradually quit; they’d rather give it up entirely and suffer the withdrawals. Doing so is called quitting cold turkey.

When I first met my now-husband, I was a pack-a-day smoker. I know, gross. But it was actually love at first sight, and I knew he hated smokers, so I quit cold turkey and stopped smoking right then and there. It was hard, but it was the best decision I ever made.

Is It Go Cold Turkey or Quit Cold Turkey?

Go Cold Turkey vs Quit Cold Turkey Ngram
Go cold turkey and quit cold turkey usage trend.

Both go cold turkey and quit cold turkey are considered correct and widely used in the English language. But quit cold turkey was first used in the early 1800s, with go cold turkey appearing later that century. Now, go cold turkey is the more common of the two.

Origin of Cold Turkey

So, even though Google Ngrams shows the use of quit cold turkey in the early 1800s, the actual origin of the phrase wasn’t recorded until the earlier 1900s when law officials used it to describe how drug addicts would behave when having withdrawals. Their skin would scour with goosebumps, like a plucked turkey.

But there’s also the fact that cold turkey is a food that requires little to no preparation, just as quitting abruptly requires hardly any prep. This idea was linked to the idiomatic phrase back in 1910.

What’s Another Word for Cold Turkey?

  • Abruptly
  • Suddenly
  • Immediately
  • Instantaneously
  • Directly
  • At once

Cold Turkey Examples in a Sentence

Cold Turkey Idiom Origin Meaning 1
  • After years of smoking cigarettes, I quit cold turkey for my husband and never looked back.
  • I tried to go cold turkey off caffeine but then suffered from complete withdrawal symptoms.
  • Our family doctor advised my husband not to go cold turkey when stopping his old meds in place of his new meds.
  • When it comes to horribly unhealthy habits, sometimes it’s just best to go cold turkey.
  • My brother quit doing cocaine cold turkey, but he’s suffering major drug withdrawals.
  • I suffer from a bad book-buying habit, and the only way to break it is to quit cold turkey and delete my Amazon account.

In the End

That’s yet another idiom guide added to my list! I hope my breakdown of the phrase helped you understand it better. Basically, anything cold turkey means giving up or stopping something abruptly, usually a bad habit of some kind. Now, pardon me, I’m going to go make a cold turkey sandwich! Be sure to have a look at my other idiom guides to find other phrases to broaden your vocabulary!