Definition of tortoise in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈtɔːtəs/
Pronunciation: /ˈtɔːtɔɪz/


1A slow-moving typically herbivorous land reptile of warm climates, enclosed in a scaly or leathery domed shell into which it can retract its head and thick legs. Called turtle in North America.
  • Family Testudinidae: numerous genera and species, including the European tortoise (Testudo graeca). See also giant tortoise.
Example sentences
  • The herbivorous reptiles and tortoises had thrived until the arrival of man - and the rats that stowed away on his ships - because there had been no large predatory, carnivorous mammals for them to contend with.
  • A mammal such as a horse, that stands with its left and right feet close together, has to control transverse movements of its centre of mass much more precisely than a reptile such as a tortoise, that stands with its feet far apart.
  • But if no rains fall during the warm seasons and the tortoises don't get a chance to drink, they will enter hibernation dehydrated, malnourished, and with a bladder full of toxic waste.
1.1Australian A freshwater turtle.
Example sentences
  • The Turtle Conservation Fund has listed the 25 most endangered turtles to highlight the survival crisis facing tortoises and freshwater turtles and to unveil a global plan to prevent further extinctions.
  • Three other tortoises, two snapping turtles and a monitor lizard had to be hosed down by firefighters in Eric and Carole Griffiths' home in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester.
  • ‘Racing’ may sound like an odd term to describe a tortoise, but gopher tortoises are faster than you might think.
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.



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

Line breaks: tor|toise

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