View synonyms for tortoise


[ tawr-tuhs ]


  1. a turtle, especially a terrestrial turtle.
  2. a very slow person or thing.


/ ˈtɔːtəs /


  1. any herbivorous terrestrial chelonian reptile of the family Testudinidae, of most warm regions, having a heavy dome-shaped shell and clawed limbs cheloniantestudinal
  2. water tortoise
    water tortoise another name for terrapin
  3. a slow-moving person
  4. another word for testudo See also giant tortoise

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Word History and Origins

Origin of tortoise1

1350–1400; variant of earlier (15th-century) tortuse, tortose, tortuce, Middle English tortuca < Medieval Latin tortūca, for Late Latin tartarūcha (feminine adj.) of Tartarus (< Greek tartaroûcha ), the tortoise being regarded as an infernal animal; Medieval Latin form influenced by Latin tortus crooked, twisted ( tort )

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Word History and Origins

Origin of tortoise1

C15: probably from Old French tortue (influenced by Latin tortus twisted), from Medieval Latin tortūca, from Late Latin tartarūcha coming from Tartarus, from Greek tartaroukhos; referring to the belief that the tortoise originated in the underworld

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Example Sentences

The team identified genes possibly involved in the tuatara’s biological quirks including their long lives, which are the longest of any other reptiles besides tortoises.

At this point, you just needed to determine when the tortoise had finished 20 percent of the race.

Last week, the tortoise and the hare were about to begin a 10-mile race along a “stretch” of road.

To better understand this, let’s take a closer look at the tortoise over time.

Once this sum exceeded 10, the tortoise was guaranteed to have finished the race.

Tortoise disqualified for technical reasons, first place awarded to Sputnik hare.

The same look of an unruly child behind his tortoise-shell glasses.

“That was bizarre,” he said, his brown eyes getting wide behind his tortoise-shell glasses.

His art collection includes a live tortoise covered in gems and a "flavor organ" on which he can play gustatory fugues.

The tortoise Hollande, early on in his bid to become the Socialist nominee, had only two reporters on his beat.

The legs and arms were carved or made of costly woods, or inlaid or plated with tortoise-shell or the precious metals.

As he glanced through the window he saw an Englishman in the shop holding a tortoise, which he was turning about in his hands.

The sheath itself was hardly less remarkable, made of a single piece of tortoise shell, studded with golden bees.

The tortoise is found sculptured on some of the ruins at Uxmal; it was also stamped upon the coins of Grecian Thebes and gina.

If you've spectacles, don't have a tortoise-shell rim, And don't go near the water—unless you can swim.


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Tortoise Vs. Turtle

What’s the difference between a tortoise and a turtle?

The words tortoise and turtle are sometimes used interchangeably, and turtle is the more general term. The word tortoise is sometimes used to distinguish a turtle as being a terrestrial (mostly land-dwelling) one, as opposed to an aquatic turtle (one that spends most of its time in water).

However, this doesn’t mean that a turtle is necessarily aquatic simply because it’s called a turtle. For example, the box turtle is primarily terrestrial (it can also be called the box tortoise).

Turtles and tortoises are both reptiles that belong to the order Testudines. Whether something is called a tortoise or a turtle often depends on its habitat and physical features.

Some aquatic turtles, like snapping turtles, have webbed feet, while others, like sea turtles, have flippers. In contrast, turtles that are called tortoises typically have stubby, round feet, and their shells are often more domed.

Here are a few quick questions to help you determine whether it’s more appropriate to call something a tortoise or a turtle.

Q: Does it spend a lot of time in the water and have webbed feet or flippers?
A: It’s probably called a turtle.

Q: Does it live mostly on land and have a domed shell and round feet?
A: There’s a good chance it’s called a tortoise, but this isn’t always the case.

Q: Is it a teenaged, mutant ninja?
A: It’s a turtle.

Still stumped? Ask a herpetologist.

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between tortoises and turtles.

Quiz yourself on tortoise vs. turtle!

Should tortoise or turtle be used in the following sentence?

The huge, land-dwelling _____ of the Galápagos Islands is known as being one of the longest living animals in the world.

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