a woolen or worsted cloth woven with stripes of different colors and widths crossing at right angles, worn chiefly by the Scottish Highlanders, each clan having its own distinctive plaid.
a design of such a plaid known by the name of the clan wearing it.
any plaid.


of, relating to, or resembling tartan.
made of tartan.

Origin of tartan

1490–1500; variant of tertane < Middle French tertaine (Old French tiretaine) linsey-woolsey
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for tartan

Contemporary Examples of tartan

  • They stood at attention in their tartan kilts, white leggings and bearskin hats as a Marine band struck up “Hail to the Chief.”

    The Daily Beast logo
    Michael Daly: My Last Day With JFK

    Michael Daly

    November 11, 2013

  • I can barely imagine what tartan might have done to my psyche.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The Seneca Tartan?

    Blake Gopnik

    September 14, 2012

Historical Examples of tartan

British Dictionary definitions for tartan




  1. a design of straight lines, crossing at right angles to give a chequered appearance, esp the distinctive design or designs associated with each Scottish clanthe Buchanan tartan
  2. (as modifier)a tartan kilt
a woollen fabric or garment with this design
the tartan Highland dress
Derived Formstartaned, adjective

Word Origin for tartan

C16: perhaps from Old French tertaine linsey-woolsey, from Old Spanish tiritaña a fine silk fabric, from tiritar to rustle




a single-masted vessel used in the Mediterranean, usually with a lateen sail

Word Origin for tartan

C17: from French, perhaps from Provençal tartana falcon, buzzard, since a ship was frequently given the name of a bird
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

Word Origin and History for tartan

mid-15c., perhaps from Middle French tiretaine "strong, coarse fabric" (mid-13c.), from Old French tiret "kind of cloth," from tire "silk cloth," from Medieval Latin tyrius "cloth from Tyre." If this is the source, spelling likely influenced in Middle English by tartaryn "rich silk cloth" (mid-14c.), from Old French tartarin "Tartar cloth," from Tartare "Tartar," the Central Asian people (see Tartar).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper