[tawr-tuh s]


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

Origin of tortoise

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 (see tort) Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for tortoise

Contemporary Examples of tortoise

Historical Examples of tortoise

  • I had, too, and I own it was absurd, a tortoise named Chrysagre.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • The tortoise in the right road will beat a racer in the wrong.


    Samuel Smiles

  • With these words he took his tortoise on his back and went off.

  • Gone were the figs and almonds, the indigo, ivory, tortoise shells.

    The Harbor

    Ernest Poole

  • Nolens Volens tries it by a process like "Achilles and the Tortoise."

    A Tangled Tale

    Lewis Carroll

British Dictionary definitions for tortoise



any herbivorous terrestrial chelonian reptile of the family Testudinidae, of most warm regions, having a heavy dome-shaped shell and clawed limbsRelated adjectives: chelonian, testudinal
water tortoise another name for terrapin
a slow-moving person
another word for testudo See also giant tortoise

Word Origin for tortoise

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
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 tortoise

1550s, altered (perhaps by influence of porpoise) from Middle English tortuse (late 15c.), tortuce (mid-15c.), tortuge (late 14c.), from Medieval Latin tortuca (mid-13c.), perhaps from Late Latin tartaruchus "of the underworld" (see turtle). Others propose a connection with Latin tortus "twisted," based on the shape of the feet. The classical Latin word was testudo, from testa "shell." First record of tortoise shell as a coloring pattern is from 1782.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper