We have November, so favorite topic to discuss is Christmas, already.

So, I realized, that favorite Christmas dish in USA is turkey.

But, I know, that turkey is also eaten on Thanksgiving day.

The twist is, that in my language (Czech), we have two words which translate back to English as Turkey. Basically one word for male and another word for female.

After having jokingly discussion about whether Americans eat male first and then female, or the other way around, I became too curious and need to ask.

So, in general, do Americans care about sex of the turkey they have on their plate?

P.S.: I can imagine this question being asked also either on Travelling or Cooking. I decided to ask it here, because the root question is language usage. But feel free to migrate it, if you feel my decision was wrong.

  • It's not really a language question & I don't know if this answer is strictly true for turkey, but for chicken you are undoubtedly eating male chicken, they keep the females for egg-laying. Same for beef, lamb etc, females for breeding, milk, males for eating. Nov 10, 2014 at 9:09
  • While I am completely aware about this in chicken, in case of "bigger" animals, the sex is being distinguished in Czech language. So I am quite curious if the same holds true in (American) English Nov 10, 2014 at 9:35
  • I think it holds fairly true that, whilst in the field you would differentiate cockerel/hen,bull/cow etc, by the time they hit the plate, no-one wants to be reminded it was once alive & the distinction is no longer subject for polite dinner-table discussion. Nov 10, 2014 at 9:39
  • 6
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about culture rather than language.
    – user230
    Nov 10, 2014 at 12:13
  • 1
    Had your question been about how often we differentiate between male and female birds by using more specific names, I think this would have been fit to stay open. Instead, you asked if we care about the sex of the turkey we eat. To that, I'll say, "No, we don't care if it's male or female, only that it's not underdone or overcooked," and mention that I agree with the reasons for closing.
    – J.R.
    Nov 10, 2014 at 18:16

3 Answers 3


We use the gender-neutral pronoun "it" for inanimate objects, not "he" or "she" as in many other languages.

Also, our articles "a" and "the" do not have gender-specific forms.

This is one of the few aspects of English which I feel is easier than other languages.

As for whether the turkeys we eat are male or female, I don't think we make any distinction; the same is true for most other animals, except for maybe cattle: there apparently are slight differences between steer and heifer meat, but I wouldn't be able to tell you in the grocery store which it is that I'm purchasing.

p.s. we don't capitalize "turkey" unless you are referring to the country.

  • We also make distinction for poultry, specifically chickens: we call the males cocks (or, when we're in polite company, roosters) and the females are called hens.
    – Nzall
    Nov 10, 2014 at 15:21
  • Ah -- good point, I was thinking of meat rather than of the animal itself.
    – Jason S
    Nov 10, 2014 at 17:31
  • Most animals do have differentiating words for males and females (rabbits, e.g., are bucks and does), although many of these terms aren't used outside of areas of special expertise (such as breeders or veterinarians).
    – J.R.
    Nov 10, 2014 at 18:06

I can't comment due to lack of reputation, but to add the gender-specific names of turkeys: males are toms, females are hens. I believe that like chickens, the majority of "store-bought" turkeys are hens, but hunters prefer toms. They are not to my knowledge distinguishable once cooked.

  • You are absolutely right - toms and hens are the gender-specific terms! And as soon as I saw your post I realized that at some point I did learn them - but I don't think you'll find the terms commonly in childrens' picture books or even used in speech very often. They're used rarely enough that we forget we ever knew them. ;) And my understanding is that the store-bought situation is exactly the opposite - females are kept to lay more eggs and males are slaughtered.
    – michelle
    Nov 10, 2014 at 16:01

The more I thought about this in terms of a language question, the more interesting it became. I agree with Jason S's answer, but wanted to add that English-speaking children do learn gender-specific words for many farm animals (bull/cow, goose/gander, rooster/hen, stallion/mare), but I don't recall ever learning separate terms for male and female turkeys.

Also, colloquially if we are talking about live chickens, we generally use "chicken" to refer to a female and "rooster" to refer to a male. But when it comes to a frozen chicken in the grocery store, we use the word "chicken" even though the bird is most likely a male. I wonder if this isn't the result of a general squeamishness in our culture to know where our meat is coming from? The less we know and have to think about it, the better, and assigning a gender to a dead animal would force us to think about it.

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    Ah -- I was thinking of meat rather than of the animal itself.
    – Jason S
    Nov 10, 2014 at 17:30
  • Yes, which is what the OP was looking for, but the question of why we don't distinguish becomes really interesting when we consider the different way that gender is handled in live animals.
    – michelle
    Nov 10, 2014 at 17:35
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    I've heard something about how there was a difference in "high"/"low" class society's use of meat and animal names after the Norman invasion of England. The Anglo-Saxon words for meat and the animals are supposedly the same; whereas the Normans used different words for meat and animals. So the linguistics has a correlation with what types of meat were affordable to the lower classes (Anglo-Saxon) english.stackexchange.com/questions/85638/… straightdope.com/columns/read/2008/…
    – Jason S
    Nov 10, 2014 at 17:40
  • The "chicken" in the supermarket is almost certainly female. Male chicks are identified soon after birth (by very highly skilled workers who idenitfy males by touch) and killed as chicks. Females are kept for eggs for a certain period of time and then slaughtered for meat.
    – James K
    May 21, 2019 at 6:06

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