Definition of tortoise in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈtôrdəs/


1A turtle, typically a herbivorous one that lives on land.
Example sentences
  • The origin of turtles and tortoises from ancestral reptiles is still unclear.
  • The strength of a unique male bond between a young hippopotamus and a 130-year-old tortoise will be tested later this spring when conservation workers introduce a female hippo to the mix.
  • I shot one sequence of a small female tortoise foiling a large male's mating attempts by quickly spinning around under his huge shell - a behavior I'd seen many times but never before captured.
1.1 informal Anything exceptionally slow-moving: you are a tortoise on the uptake today
More example sentences
  • Normally the pavements were so crowded with prams and shopping trolleys and people stopping to chat, you had to walk in the road on the far side of parked cars if you wanted to progress at anything more than tortoise pace.
2 another term for testudo.
Example sentences
  • It was also used by the Romans when they used what was known as a tortoise formation to move forward to a target that was well defended.
  • The children are also learning to march like a tortoise as the Romans did, with shields at their side and on top.
  • The testudo, the tortoise formation, involved raising the scutums into a shell.



Pronunciation: /-ˌlīk/
adjective& adverb
Example sentences
  • The enigmatic Eunotosaurus africanus is characterized by a semi-rigid, turtle-like rib cage, one which presumably necessitated a tortoise-like fashion of walking.
  • The action two weeks ago was the first time since the mid-1980s that effective mass secondary strike action has taken place, wrong-footing the employers and also, sadly, the tortoise-like structures of our own official trade unionism.
  • And he spent so much time with his tongue up Bush's bottom that he forgot to attend to the delectable Cherie, so that her tortoise-like face now appears everywhere, desperately craving the attention so sadly denied her by darling Tony.


Late Middle English tortu, tortuce: from Old French tortue and Spanish tortuga, both from medieval Latin tortuca, of uncertain origin. The current spelling dates from the mid 16th century.

  • turtle from mid 17th century:

    English sailors gave the turtle its name in the 1650s. They probably based it on tortue, an early form of tortoise (Late Middle English), from French tortue and Spanish tortuga ‘tortoise’ of uncertain origin. A boat is said to turn turtle when it turns upside down, because it then looks a bit like the shell of a turtle, or because it is as helpless as a turtle flipped over on its back. Mock turtle soup, inspiration for the Mock Turtle in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, is soup made with a calf's head, in imitation of turtle soup, once an important part of grand banquets. The turtle in turtle dove is a completely different word whose ultimate source is Latin turtur, an imitation of the bird's cooing. ‘The time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land’ is from the biblical Song of Solomon, a reference to the fact that the turtle dove is a migratory bird.

Words that rhyme with tortoise


For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: tor·toise

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