This phrase meaning suddenly, without preparation or to speak frankly is originally a reference to food. Cold turkey is literally something that can be prepared quickly and with little effort. Hence, the figurative use of something sudden and quick.
The earliest known use of the term is from 1910 in Robert Service’s The Trail of ‘98:
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One morning I got up from the card-table after sitting there thirty-six hours. I’d lost five thousand dollars. I knew they’d handed me out “cold turkey,” but I took my medicine.1
Copyright 1997-2016, by David Wilton