Kids crack me up.
I'm getting ahead of myself ...
Gone are the days when families raised food for their family's consumption but years ago, most families did. Each had some sort of garden and raised animals for meat. Even families that resided "in town" and were spatially challenged kept smaller animals such as fowl for meat and/or eggs. Chickens and turkeys were as familiar to most children, then, as cats and dogs are to children now.
And for generations, taunts derived from this knowledge have echoed in America's school yards. Chicken. BOOOCK! BockBockBock. Superficially, a simple insult, yet when one pauses underlying complexities are apparent.
The kid who is a chicken is a vastly different creature than the kid who is a scaredy cat and the kid who is a turkey.
Chickens are stupid and afraid of anything unfamiliar, and that makes them "flighty". That is the definition of a chicken, it is an inherent quality, and the one word is sufficient.
Scaredy cat. Two words. Cats are smarter, more complex creatures than chickens, and require an adjective to accurately convey the taunter's intent. What kind of cat? A scaredy cat.
Turkey - again, one word. A living, breathing, flesh and blood domestic turkey is possibly the dumbest animal on earth. It is apt to die at any given moment because it's too stupid to be afraid. It walks right into the danger with a skip in its step and a song in its heart. Turkey is the proper moniker to assign to the class fool oblivious of the consequences of his* actions. You know this kid's going to spend a lot of recesses with his head on his desk.
Kids don't need to think about any of this - they just know it. Even while taunting, they know there's more purpose in taunting the scaredy cat than the chicken because the chicken is long gone - it flew the coop. The scaredy cat is still hanging around assessing the situation before committing. And it isn't necessary to taunt the turkey cause he just went ahead and did it, and he will either die or get in big trouble and as each has entertainment value to kids, the turkey has a certain bizarre social standing.
The most fascinating thing about all of this, though, is the staying power of these taunts. Generations later they are still used. Children who've never even driven by a farm use these with acumen. They get the subtleties. They wield the taunt with wit and precision.
Or maybe it's come full circle. Maybe it's a chicken/egg situation. Are children calling little Johnny a turkey because they know turkeys are fools, or, do little Johnny's antics teach children that turkeys are fools?
Our world has evolved with technological advances, and the family farm has all but disappeared. Amazingly, and thankfully, memories of days gone by linger on. We owe that to children, and I tip my hat.
And enjoy your turkey without guilt or remorse. It had a happy life. Killing that bird was a kindness, really. Something would have gotten him.
* often gender specific
addendum - for the purposes of this post I limited my examples of the etymology of insults from the barn yard setting ......but there are more. Pig, Jackass, Hound Dog, Rat... all are worthy of a moment of contemplation.