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Expressions From a Thanksgiving Meal


FILE - Brent Clodgio checks a Thanksgiving turkey while tailgating before an football game in Detroit in 2014. "Tailgate" is a party you have in the parking lot of a big event such as a concert or football game.

Now, it’s time for Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English.

In the United States, it is almost time for something else. In a few days, smells of roasting turkey, buttery mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie will fill homes from coast to coast.

With schools closed, many children will settle down in front of a television to watch a big parade in New York City. They see people dressed like superheroes and storybook characters pass before their eyes as the parade moves down the street.

A giant Charlie Brown balloon makes floats down 6th Avenue in New York City during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2016. (REUTERS/Saul Martinez)
A giant Charlie Brown balloon makes floats down 6th Avenue in New York City during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2016. (REUTERS/Saul Martinez)

Later in the day, many adults will watch one or more football games on television.

It is all part of the American holiday of Thanksgiving.

Now, for some people, spending Thanksgiving with extended family is not possible. In the U.S., members of the same family often live very far apart.

Others have family members they don’t want to spend the holiday with. This is where the custom of Friendsgiving comes from. “Friendsgiving” is a fairly new term for spending Thanksgiving with friends and not family.

A big part of the holiday is the food! The turkey is the star of most Thanksgiving meals. The cook in the home wakes up early to prepare the food. After adding seasoning to the turkey, it is heated in an oven for several hours.

Just because this large bird is the star, that doesn’t save the word “turkey” from having some bad meanings. For example, in American English, a “turkey” is something that fails or a person who is not all that intelligent. When a film loses money, we can call it a turkey. And if we meet someone who is foolish, we can call them many names – one of which is “turkey.”

A roasted, stuffed Thanksgiving turkey often steals the show!
A roasted, stuffed Thanksgiving turkey often steals the show!

Now, a turkey is big; so, there are always leftovers. People often cook too much, so there is always food left over for the next day and the next … and the next.

You may have heard the expression cold turkey. This might sound like a tasty meal that you eat from Thanksgiving leftovers.

But it’s not.

“Cold turkey” is when you immediately give something up, usually something that is not good for you. Some people can stop smoking cold turkey. They decide one day to stop and never smoke again. For many people, giving up smoking or drinking alcohol is not something they can do cold turkey. They must do it slowly over time.

Let’s say you have a friend who smokes too much. You may have to talk turkey with them.

When you are talking turkey, you’re not sharing recipes for your Thanksgiving leftovers. This expression means you talk to someone in a plain, clear and honest way, usually about something unpleasant.

Now, let’s talk turkey about … turkey itself.

Sometimes turkey can be dry and tasteless. A dry turkey is probably the number one food complaint at a Thanksgiving dinner. However, even if you overcook your turkey and it comes out dry, don’t worry. Just make sure to make a really good gravy to pour all over it.

Gravy is made from the juices of cooked meat. Mashed potatoes and gravy are usually a favorite at the dinner table. In the U.S., we also use the word “gravy” to suggest something valuable or more than what you expected. For example, let’s say your office gives you a really big end-of-year bonus. You can say the money that you received in addition to your wages was gravy. You didn’t expect it. It was like getting extra money!

Turkey covered with gravy is usually the main course at Thanksgiving. But many people love the side dishes just as much, especially the ones made with potatoes! Whether baked, mashed or scalloped, it is important to have a potato side dish. But be careful not to bring a hot potato to the table!

The term “hot potato” means an issue or question about which people feel very strongly. People may argue about divisive issues, also called “hot potatoes.”

Other favorites at the Thanksgiving Day table are the vegetable side dishes, such as green bean casserole, roasted Brussel sprouts and creamed corn.

Well, corn is a grain plant and not a vegetable. But did you know that the word “corn” can be an insult when talking about someone or something?

Corny” is a way to describe something so simple and old-fashioned that it is unpopular or even annoying. Americans often describe outdated ideas, old jokes and overly-emotional poems as corny.

Let’s leave corn and turn to stuffing.To be stuffed means that you ate so much you can’t possibly eat any more.

Traditional stuffing is a food made with bread, herbs, eggs, celery and onion. They are mixed together, put inside the bird and cooked. A roasted brown, stuffed turkey is a thing of beauty! Having a room full of stuffed guests is also nice. It means everyone had enough to eat – or, maybe too much!

That was a look at a few words and expressions related to the Thanksgiving holiday. Now, let’s hear how they are used at the dinner table.

Pardon me, could you pass the gravy, please? So, like I was saying, I told my supervisor that it was time to talk turkey. I told her exactly how I felt about the new worker.

I predict that didn’t go over very well. Your boss doesn’t sound like a person who likes to talk to employees directly.

She’s not. But it paid off. I got a great year-end bonus! And since I’ve already paid my bills for the year, the money is pure gravy! So, I think I’ll use it to take a trip.

Good for you! But let’s not talk about work anymore. I have a great joke! What did the zero say to the eight? ... Nice belt! Ha! Get it? Nice belt. Belt.

You told the same corny joke last year at Thanksgiving.

I like simple, old-fashioned jokes! They’re a lot better than the dirty ones you hear these days. By the way, who cooked the turkey this year? It is really moist and tastes great.

Thanks! I did. And don’t forget the gravy. I slow-cooked it for an hour and used fresh herbs to flavor it.

Oh, that is so good. I haven’t had homemade gravy in years!

So, did anyone hear what the President said about …

No, no, no! Not at the table. I’d rather hear silly, corny jokes than talk about politics, thank you very much.

I agree. There are too many hot potato issues these days. You never know what is going to make someone angry.

So true. Hey, who would like a glass of wine?

Not me. I gave up all alcohol last month. I quit cold turkey and haven’t had a drop since.

Wow. That’s not easy. My friend stopped smoking cold turkey last year. He said it was difficult. But it was the only way he could quit. Would you like more stuffing?

Yes, please!

How can you still be hungry?! I’m stuffed.

What can I say? I like stuffing and I only get it once a year … at Thanksgiving. Hey, it might sound corny, but why don’t we go around the table and tell one thing we’re thankful for.

Yeah! I remember my grandmother would always ask the people invited to her Thanksgiving meal to do this. I’ll go first! I am most thankful for my good health this year.

And that brings us to the end of Words and Their Stories!

As we thanks during this time of the year, all of us here would like to thank all of you for spending time with us!

I’m Anna Matteo.

And I'm Jonathan Evans.

Grateful for what's understood,
And all that is forgiven;
We try so hard to be good,
To lead a life worth living.

Father, mother, daughter, son,
Neighbor, friend, and friendless;
All together everyone
Let grateful days be endless.

What are you thankful for? Let us know in the Comments Section or simply practice using some of these expressions from the Thanksgiving table!

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor. The song at the end is Mary Chapin Carpenter singing "The Thanksgiving Song."

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Words in This Story

roast v. to cook by exposing to dry heat (as in an oven or before a fire) or by surrounding with hot embers, sand, or stones

mash v. to make (something, such as a type of food) into a soft mass by beating it or crushing it

parade n. a public celebration of a special day or event that usually includes many people and groups moving down a street by marching or riding in cars or on special vehicles (called floats) < the annual Thanksgiving Day parade >

dress v. to prepare (food) for cooking or eating

oven n. a piece of cooking equipment that is used for baking or roasting food

leftovers n. food that has not been finished at a meal and that is often served at another meal

complaint n. a statement that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something

scalloped adj. baked in a sauce usually with bread crumbs on top

old-fashionedadj. of or relating to the past: such as : no longer used or accepted : replaced by something more recent

annoying adj. to cause (someone) to feel slightly angry

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