noun, plural tur·tles, (especially collectively) tur·tle.

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), tur·tled, tur·tling.

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 turtle

1625–35; alteration (influenced by turtle2) of French tortue < Medieval Latin tortūca tortoise
Related formstur·tler, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for turn turtle

capsize, overturn

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 swimmingRelated adjectives: chelonian, testudinal
US and 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


(intr) to catch or hunt turtles
Derived Formsturtler, noun

Word Origin for turtle

C17: from French tortue tortoise (influenced by turtle ²)




an archaic name for turtledove

Word Origin for turtle

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

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

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]


see turn turtle.

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