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Posted by Smokey Stover on October 13, 2005

In Reply to: Turkey posted by Russ Cable on October 12, 2005

: : : In bowling when a person gets three strikes in a row it is called a Turkey. What originated Turkey as a term for three strikes in a row?

: : My slang dictionaries don't say. I always assumed the reason was the similar sounds of "turkey" and "three" or "third," but I don't really know.

: A few sites say it's because turkeys were given as prizes to the first person in a tournament to get 3 in a row but that seems unlikely to me. Going along with R. Berg, perhaps it is the similarity between turkey and thirty (the score given in the first frame of the turkey). I also think the number 30 looks a little like a turkey (3 is the head/neck and the feet and the 0 is the big fat body - I have a vivid imagination obviously ^_^ ).

I'd be inclined to wonder how long the term had been in this use in bowling alleys. There may be some connection with one of the uses mentioned in the OED. "6. U.S. slang. a. An inferior or unsuccessful cinematographic or theatrical production, a flop; hence, anything disappointing or of little value. [citation] 1927 Vanity Fair (N.Y.) XXIX. 132/3 'A turkey' is a third rate production. ...
c. A stupid, slow, inept, or otherwise worthless person."

I was once in a management seminar in which three teams were chosen to play an illustrative game. One team failed entirely to understand that the game had a trick, and in a later "post-mortem," were called by some members of my team "turkeys." I had hardly ever heard the term used that way, but soon we were embroiled in a war of words with the offended "turkeys," and had formally to apologize. SS