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[tur-tl] /ˈtɜr tl/
noun, plural turtles (especially collectively) turtle.
any reptile of the order Testudines, comprising aquatic and terrestrial species having the trunk enclosed in a shell consisting of a dorsal carapace and a ventral plastron.
(not used technically) an aquatic turtle as distinguished from a terrestrial one.
Compare tortoise (def 1).
verb (used without object), turtled, turtling.
to catch turtles, especially as a business.
turn turtle,
  1. Nautical. to capsize or turn over completely in foundering.
  2. to overturn; upset:
    Several of the cars turned turtle in the course of the race.
Origin of turtle1
1625-35; alteration (influenced by turtle2) of French tortue < Medieval Latin tortūca tortoise
Related forms
turtler, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for turn turtle
Historical Examples
  • The warning came none too soon, for a gust of wind hit the biplane and all but made it "turn turtle," as the saying goes.

    The Rover Boys in the Air Edward Stratemeyer
  • Her tail rose, and she started, with dreadful deliberateness, to turn turtle.

    The Trail of the Hawk Sinclair Lewis
  • Many times the boat buried her rail and deck, but she did not turn turtle.

  • His boat would "turn turtle" or be cut in two by the craft behind.

    El Diablo Brayton Norton
  • Almost every man aboard was thrown to the deck, and the vessel heeled over to starboard until it seemed she must turn turtle.

    The Boy With the U. S. Fisheries Francis Rolt-Wheeler
  • Herein lay real danger, for if the deck-load of ashes grew too heavy the Bear might turn turtle.

    The Boy With the U. S. Life-Savers Francis Rolt-Wheeler
  • For the yellow car made a sudden swerve and seemed about to turn turtle.

    The Golf Course Mystery Chester K. Steele
  • If they went down in that the touring car would most likely turn turtle, and they might all be killed.

    The Rover Boys in the Air Edward Stratemeyer
  • Pointed ladders are the best for tall trees and less liable to injure the tree or turn turtle and upset the picker.

  • Then I got alarmed, thinking the machine might turn turtle on me, so I shut off the engine, intending to glide to earth.

    The Rover Boys in the Air Edward Stratemeyer
British Dictionary definitions for turn turtle


any of various aquatic chelonian reptiles, esp those of the marine family Chelonidae, having a flattened shell enclosing the body and flipper-like limbs adapted for swimming related adjectives chelonian testudinal
(US & Canadian) any of the chelonian reptiles, including the tortoises and terrapins
(nautical) a zip bag made as part of a spinnaker for holding the sail so that it can be set rapidly
turn turtle, to capsize
(intransitive) to catch or hunt turtles
Derived Forms
turtler, noun
Word Origin
C17: from French tortuetortoise (influenced by turtle²)


an archaic name for turtledove
Word Origin
Old English turtla, from Latin turtur, of imitative origin; related to German Turteltaube
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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Word Origin and History for turn turtle



reptile, c.1600, "marine tortoise," from French tortue "turtle, tortoise," of unknown origin. The English word is perhaps a sailors' mauling of the French one, influenced by the similar sounding turtle (n.2). Later extended to land tortoises; sea-turtle is attested from 1610s. Turtleneck "close-fitting collar" is recorded from 1895.

"turtledove," Old English turtle, dissimilation of Latin turtur "turtledove," a reduplicated form imitative of the bird's call. Graceful, harmonious and affectionate to its mate, hence a term of endearment in Middle English. Turtledove is attested from c.1300.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for turn turtle

turn turtle

verb phrase

To turn upside down; capsize: in the heavier puffs, they thought she would turn turtle

[1860+; fr earlier turn the turtle, found by 1818, referring to making a turtle helpless by turning it on its back]


Related Terms

turn turtle

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with turn turtle

turn turtle

Capsize, turn upside down, as in When they collided, the car turned turtle. This expression alludes to the helplessness of a turtle turned on its back, where its shell can no longer protect it. [ First half of 1800s ]


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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