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[tawr-tuh s-shel] /ˈtɔr təsˌʃɛl/
noun, Also, tortoise shell
a horny substance of a mottled brown and yellow coloration, composing the laminae that cover the inner body plates of the carapace of certain tortoises or turtles, especially the hawksbill, used for making combs and ornamental articles, inlaying, etc.
any synthetic substance made to look like natural tortoiseshell.
Also, tortoiseshell butterfly. any of several nymphalid butterflies of the genus Nymphalis, as N. californica, having variegated markings of red, yellow, or orange on the wings.
adjective, Also, tortoise-shell
mottled or variegated like tortoiseshell, especially with yellow and brown and sometimes other colors.
made of tortoiseshell.
Origin of tortoiseshell
First recorded in 1595-1605; tortoise + shell Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for tortoiseshell
Historical Examples
  • The insects which mimic these are chiefly Papilios, and Diadema, a genus allied to our peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies.

  • And seeing that the Minister was looking over his tortoiseshell.

    The Burning Spear John Galsworthy
  • The same males might be used with advantage with a tortoiseshell female.

  • It is usually supposed that a tortoiseshell Tom is an impossibility.

    The Book of Cats Charles H. Ross
  • The tortoiseshell male cat is a treasure often sought for, but very, very seldom found.

    The Cat Philip M. Rule
  • In two hours Nakeesa has filled the tortoiseshell and returns to her man.

    Tales of South Africa H.A. Bryden
  • These boxes are often of gold or tortoiseshell, and beautifully ornamented.

    Letters of a Javanese Princess Raden Adjeng Kartini
  • Peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies were flitting to and fro.

    Combed Out Fritz August Voigt
  • In the earliest period any bones of animals (especially shoulder-bones) were used; later only tortoiseshell.

  • His brass and tortoiseshell marquetry set a fashion to all succeeding craftsmen.

    Chats on Old Clocks Arthur Hayden
British Dictionary definitions for tortoiseshell


a horny translucent yellow-and-brown mottled substance obtained from the outer layer of the shell of the hawksbill turtle: used for making ornaments, jewellery, etc
a similar synthetic substance, esp plastic or celluloid, now more widely used than the natural product
a breed of domestic cat, usually female, having black, cream, and brownish markings
any of several nymphalid butterflies of the genus Nymphalis, and related genera, having orange-brown wings with black markings
tortoiseshell turtle, another name for hawksbill turtle
  1. a yellowish-brown mottled colour
  2. (as adjective): a tortoiseshell décor
(modifier) made of tortoiseshell: a tortoiseshell comb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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