Was it meant to be an objurgation, an insult, a jocose remark, or something else? And does it have the same meaning today as it had then?"
Definitions of “turkey” (when used to refer to a person)
Slang. a person or thing of little appeal; dud; loser. a naive, stupid, or inept person.http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/turkey
A stupid or inept person.http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/turkey
Several decades ago, when I was training in an academic environment in the U.S., one fellow was elected “Turkey of the year.” He looked like a very popular kind of guy and was awarded a beautiful life-size golden turkey at an informal gathering. When I asked one of his mates what it all meant, I was told it was an award for being a failure, a screw-up at some of the several tasks they had had during that term. It puzzled me because there was no hostility, the recipient was applauded, laughed a lot, and seemed to enjoy it. I just recalled it recently and thought I might ask it here.
My search for “turkey of the year” wasn’t productive and only returned newspaper texts saying who had been elected where.