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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. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for tortoiseshell
Historical Examples
  • And seeing that the Minister was looking over his tortoiseshell.

    The Burning Spear John Galsworthy
  • Lady Harriet took up a tortoiseshell paper-knife and played with it.

    Double Harness Anthony Hope
  • But tortoiseshell and white he-cats are occasionally to be seen.

    The Cat Philip M. Rule
  • It is usually supposed that a tortoiseshell Tom is an impossibility.

    The Book of Cats Charles H. Ross
  • In two hours Nakeesa has filled the tortoiseshell and returns to her man.

    Tales of South Africa H.A. Bryden
  • This alternation of tortoiseshell and brass forms a brilliant marquetry.

    Chats on Old Furniture Arthur Hayden
  • These boxes are often of gold or tortoiseshell, and beautifully ornamented.

    Letters of a Javanese Princess Raden Adjeng Kartini
  • The same males might be used with advantage with a tortoiseshell female.

  • tortoiseshell and whalebone can be softened and worked in the same way.

    The Art of Travel Francis Galton
  • Peacock and tortoiseshell butterflies were flitting to and fro.

    Combed Out

    Fritz August Voigt
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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