I've discovered an expression : to go cold turkey, meaning something like feeling bad because you have taken drugs and you need to take more. I wonder if another verb rather than “go” can be used instead and if there are any other expressions meaning the same.

I also wonder where this expression comes from.

8 Answers 8


You can use other verbs with the phrase. Go is the most common, but you can also quit cold turkey, or kick something cold turkey. There may be others.

As to the phrase's origin, Etymonline favors the "quick preparation" theory and indicates there was a period of time where it was not associated with kicking a bad habit. It also curiously Cf.'s cold shoulder:

cold turkey "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. Cf. cold shoulder.

Here's the entry on cold shoulder:

cold shoulder 1816, in the figurative sense of "icy reception," first in Sir Walter Scott, probably originally a literal figure, but commonly used with a punning reference to "cold shoulder of mutton," considered a poor man's dish and thus, perhaps, something one would set out for an unwanted guest with deliberate intention to convey displeasure.

How often have we admired the poor knight, who, to avoid the snares of bribery and dependence, was found making a second dinner from a cold shoulder of mutton, above the most affluent courtier, who had sold himself to others for a splendid pension! ["No Fiction," 1820]

I'll do a search for first usages.


Found the 1910 reference from The Trail of '98 by Robert William Service, though it's not clear to me how exactly the phrase is being used in this passage:


Couldn't find any reference before this. I'll keep looking for first drug reference.

  • I think derived from "kicking something cold turkey" is another expression, "kicking the bird." I've seen this used specifically for heroin; I don't know if it applies to other habits.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 17:12

"Going cold turkey" means to make a change all at once versus gradually. If you're trying to quit smoking, you might gradually reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke per day or you might instead simply stop smoking. The latter is going cold turkey.

Wikipedia has some speculative etymology here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_turkey .


The OED has cold turkey, an abrupt withdrawal from drugs, dating from 1921 but I found some antedatings.

I like this 30th July 1919 quote: it's from a doctor who says it's the addicts' own term and he also defines it in the same sentence.

Reports from several hospitals relative to the cases of addicts who had been sent from the clinic to be cured, nearly all of them giving assurances of speedy cures failed to impress Dr. Copeland.

"I am not satisfied with the methods in vogue in this city at present for curing drug addicts," he said in referring to this matter. "It has been customary for hospitals to give what the addicts call the 'cold turkey treatment,' which means that the patient is taken off the drug at once. Two or three days later the addict is declared to have been cured.

"I have a report from one hospital at which seven patients are said to have been 'cured' in two days, and another from one where eleven are reported as 'cured' in two days. I feel confident that this practice will be met and corrected through the opening ot the new hospital, where individual treatment will be given to each addict."

Source: The Sun, July 30, 1919, Page 6, Image 6, (New York [N.Y.]): image (4th column) or OCR text or PDF.

Here's also a 9th August 1921 and a 13th August 1921 nurse's letter in response.


I just encountered http://www.merriam-webster.com/blog/why-do-we-quit-cold-turkey.htm today, which I excerpt:

But why turkey, and why cold? The most popular theory was repeated by the San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen in 1978: "It derives from the hideous combination of goose pimples and what William Burroughs calls 'the cold burn' that addicts suffer as they kick the habit." In Cop Speak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime, Tom Philbin recites a second theory, that "the term may derive from the cold, clammy feel of the skin during withdrawal, like a turkey that has been refrigerated."


It may be that the original cold turkey was a combination of cold ("straightforward, matter-of-fact") and the earlier talk turkey, which dates back to the early 1800s and refers to speaking plainly. Regardless of its ultimate origins, the phrase manages to vividly capture the initial dread and discomfort that comes from immediately quitting something that's addictive, from drugs to dating apps.


Rather than modifying the verb 'go', you could simply use the word 'cease'.


The phrase "taking cold turkey" has also been reported during the 1920s as slang for pleading guilty. --Wikipedia

Allegedly, the term "cold turkey" comes from the comparison of a cold turkey that has been refrigerated and the state of a withdrawing addict, the cold sweats and gooseflesh.

Source: https://www.definition.net/define/going-cold-turkey


In the addictive drug context you mention, the phrase is "quit cold turkey." It means to stop taking an addictive drug and to withstand the effects of drug withdrawal without the use of that drug or any other drug to treat or lessen the effects.


To support the merriam-webster theory (link suggested by @Canada-Area 51 Proposal),

author Mark Forsyth in his book 'The Etymologicon' (2011) claims that by 1919 people started modifying the phrase 'talk turkey' (which had existed since 1800s accoding to merriam-webster) by adding the adjective cold, hence talking cold turkey to mean speaking in a blunt and direct way.

From this premise M.Forsyth continues: "And a couple of years later, in 1921, people started to use the phrase cold turkey to describe the bluntest, most direct method of giving up drugs."

M.Forsyth cites One of Three, Clifford Raymond (1919) as reference for his study.

It seems that this author suggests there is some logic in the idea of 'quit cold turkey' evolving from 'talk cold turkey'.

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