What do these Thanksgiving terms really mean?

2 min read

Thanksgiving in America has some uniquely American words to describe the events and the symbols that made the holiday famous. Sure, you sit down around the table to eat your turkey and cranberry sauce, but you might not be aware of the original meanings of some of these Thanksgiving traditions. Below are seven words that are intimately connected to the holiday. Enjoy!


A cornucopia is a symbol of plenty, which has been around since ancient Greece. The basket is in the shape of a goat’s horn and is filled to the point of overflowing with flowers, fruits, corn, and sometimes drink. It’s a representation of the bounty of food we share at Thanksgiving with friends and family.


You either love them, or you hate them. Giblets are the offal of a bird: the heart, liver, and other organ meats. These are removed from the bird before roasting it, but are often used as the basis of gravy or soup. They may be seen as unappetizing, but if you think about the message of the cornucopia — a horn of plenty — it reminds us to use every part of the animal in order to feed the people we love.


Massasoit, or Ousamequin, was the name of the leader of the Wampanoag tribe who interacted with the settlers in Plymouth at the first Thanksgiving . Massasoit means “Great Sachem” — sachem is the name for leader in the language of the Wampanoag tribe. It’s important to remember that Thanksgiving was not just about the settlers, but about the people who lived on the land originally.


A wishbone is a fork-shaped bone found in the clavicle of birds. There is a tradition at Thanksgiving that two people pull on either side of the wishbone. Whoever gets the larger part of the bone when it breaks gets a wish granted! It’s a fun tradition and brings people together in friendly competition — a good thing to have at Thanksgiving.


Gobble is an onomatopoeia: a word that represents a sound. In this case, gobble represents the sound a live turkey makes. Before supermarkets, you would start your holiday prep with a live bird. Here’s a fun Thanksgiving prank — wake up sleepyheads in time to help with the cooking by using a turkey gobbler (found with hunting supplies) as an alarm clock.


Maize is the strain of corn native to the Americas that was one of the foodstuffs served to the settlers by the Wampanoag. Colorful variations of maize are still included in Thanksgiving cornucopias. It reminds us that the food at the first Thanksgiving was different, but still delicious, and brought people together.


Tisquantum (or, as he is more commonly called, Squanto) was the liaison between the Native Americans and the settlers around the time of the first Thanksgiving. Tisquantum worked as a diplomat between the communities and showed the settlers how to farm crops that were better suited to the New England climate. Tisquantum was vitally important to the Thanksgiving as we know it today; it’s just as vital to know who he was.

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