Definition of turtle in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈtərdl/


1A slow-moving reptile, enclosed in a scaly or leathery domed shell into which it can retract its head and thick legs.
  • Family Testudinidae: numerous genera and species, including the European tortoise (Testudo graeca).
2 (also sea turtle) A large marine reptile with a bony or leathery shell and flippers, coming ashore annually on sandy beaches to lay eggs.
  • Families Cheloniidae (seven species) and Dermochelyidae (the leatherback).
2.1The flesh of a sea turtle, especially the green turtle, used chiefly for soup.
Example sentences
  • One of the main dishes was a soup - soft shelled turtle soup.
  • The ball came to an end at 3am, when the waitresses served turtle soup.
  • She told me about Escoffier's cookbook and its recipe for turtle soup.
3A freshwater reptile related to the turtles, typically having a flattened shell. Called terrapin in South Africa and India and tortoise in Australia.
  • Order Chelonia: several families, in particular Emydidae and Kinosternidae.
3.1North American Any reptile of the order Chelonia, including the terrapins and tortoises.
4 Computing A directional cursor in a computer graphics system that can be instructed to move around a screen.
5 short for turtleneck.


turn turtle

(Chiefly of a boat) capsize.
Example sentences
  • Kevin bellows instructions, and in quick time we exit the boat, turn turtle and fin towards the edge of the drop-off.
  • She had turned turtle and capsized and those who were not able to get out in the first few hours were surely trapped for good.
  • Four minutes later the ship turned turtle and sank.


Mid 16th century: apparently an alteration of French tortue (see tortoise).

  • 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 turtle

hurtle, kirtle, myrtle

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: tur·tle

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