Word Family - Turtle


Turtledoves are not named after turtles, in fact "turtle" has meant the bird for longer than it meant the reptile.

In Middle English tortu meant "turtle" (from Latin tortuca) and turtel mean "turtledove" (from Latin turtur), then they collapsed into "turtle". The modern meaning of "turtle" won out, and made the meaning of the bird obsolete, leaving the elaborated form turteldoufe -> turtledove. (Compare the parallel German words Turtel and Turteltaube, which both still mean "turtle dove", but there also, the elaborated Turteltaube has mostly replaced the simple Turtel.)

The Old English word for "turtle" is byrdling, which has nothing to do with birds; it is in fact "board-ling" (that is, "shieldling").


Tarshish, Tartessos, Tartarus, turtle, Tortuga, tortoise, turtle, turtledove, Tetrax, Tetrix, Tetrao

Full Text

  • Northwest Semitic
    • Phoenician 𐤕𐤓𐤔𐤔 tršš
    • Hebrew תַּרְשִׁישׁ Taršīš
      • Koine Greek Tharseis
        • Latin Tharsis
      • English Tarshish
    • Classical Greek Ταρτησσός Tartēssós
      • Latin Tartessos
        • English Tartessos
      • Classical Greek Τάρτᾰρος Tártaros Tartarus [1]
        • Latin Tartarus Tartarus, Hell, a river in Venetia
          • Western Romance
            • French Tartare
            • Italian Tartaro
          • English Tartarus
        • Koine Greek ταρταροῦχος tartaroûkhos Holder of Tartaros, Keeper of Hell
          • Medieval Latin tortuca turtle, tortoise [2]
            • Western Romance
              • Old French tortüe
                • French tortue turtle, tortoise
                  • French le de la Tortue Tortuga, Island of the Turtle (place name)
                • Middle English tortou
                  • English turtle
              • Spanish tortuga turtle, tortoise
                • Spanish Isla Tortuga Turtle Island (place name)
                  • English Tortuga
            • Middle English tortuce
              • English tortoise
  • Northwest Semitic *tār
    • Hebrew ​​תּוֹר tōr turtle dove with Canaanite shift of to ō
    • Ugaritic 𐎚𐎗 tr turtle dove
    • Latin turtur turtle dove [3]
      • Vulgar Latin *turturã from the accusative, as normal
        • Eastern Romance
          • Romanian turtură turtle dove (rare, regional)
        • Western Romance
          • French tourte passenger pigeon (regional), dove (regional)
          • Italian tortora turtle dove
      • Welsh turtur turtle dove
      • Finnish turturikyyhky turtle dove with kyyhky: "pigeon, dove"
      • Vulgar Latin *turtulã variant with dissimulation
        • Western Romance
          • Spanish tórtola turtle dove
        • Albanian turtull turtle dove
        • Old English turtle turtle dove
          • Middle English turtle
            • English turtle
            • Middle English turtledouve
              • English turtledove
        • Old High German turtil
          • German Turtel turtle dove (dated)
          • Old High German turtiltūba
            • German Turteltaube turtle dove
      • Latin turturella
        • Eastern Romance
          • Romanian turturea turtle dove
        • Western Romance
          • Old French turterele
            • French tourterelle turtle dove
          • Italian tortorella
  • Proto-Indo-European *teter- fowl, specific kind of fowl? probably onomatopoeic
    • Hellenic
      • Classical Greek
      • Classical Greek τέτρᾰξ tétrax hazel grouse
        • Translingual Tetrax taxonomic genus of little bustards
        • Classical Greek τετρᾰ́ζω tetrázō to cackle like a grouse [4]
      • Classical Greek τέτρῐξ tétrix
        • Translingual Tetrix taxonomic genus of grouse locusts
      • Classical Greek τετράων tetráōn black grouse
        • Latin tetrao
          • Translingual Tetrao taxonomic genus of wood grouse
    • Indo-Iranian
      • Indo-Aryan
        • Sanskrit तित्तिर tittirá partridge
          • Magadhi
            • Bengali তিতির titir partridge, guineafowl, francolin
          • Pali 𑀢𑀺𑀢𑁆𑀢𑀺𑀭 tittira partridge
          • Sauraseni 𑀢𑀺𑀢𑁆𑀢𑀺𑀭 tittira
            • Hindi तीतर tītar partridge
    • Italic
      • Latin turtur turtle dove [3]
    • Proto-Indo-European *tetr̥wós
      • Balto-Slavic *teterwás grouse
        • East Baltic
          • Lithuanian tetervà
        • West Baltic
          • Old Prussian tatarwis black grouse
            • Old Prussian medenixtatarwis partridge
        • Slavic *tȅtervь grouse, black grouse
          • East Slavic тетеревь teterevĭ
            • Russian те́терев téterev black grouse
          • South Slavic
            • Bulgarian те́трев tétrev black grouse
            • Old Church Slavonic тетрѣвь tetrěvĭ
            • Serbo-Croatian те̏трије̄б tȅtrijēb grouse
          • West Slavic
            • Czech tetřev grouse, capercaillie
            • Polish cietrzew grouse, black grouse
              • Polish zacietrzewić to become enraged lit. "to be-grouse-ish"
      • Celtic *teteros
        • Old Irish
          • Middle Irish tethra hooded crow
            • Middle Irish Tethra name of a Fomorian king
      • Germanic *þeduraz
        • North Germanic
          • Old Norse þiðurr wood grouse, capercaillie
            • Icelandic þiður capercaillie
            • Swedish tjäder capercaillie
      • Indo-Iranian *tatr̥wás
        • Iranian *tatr̥wáh pheasant
          • Northern Iranian
            • Khotani 𑀢𑁆𑀢𑀢𑀭 ttatara partridge
            • Sogdian 𐫤𐫤𐫡𐫀𐫇 ttr'w a kind of bird
          • Pashto تارو tārú partridge, francolin
          • Western Iranian *tatura
            • Northwestern Iranian
              • Medean *tatura(s)
                • Classical Greek τέτᾰρος tétaros
            • Old Persian
              • Persian تذرو tazarv pheasant
            • Western Iranian *taturak
              • Northwestern Iranian
                • Old Armenian տատրակ tatrak turtle dove
                  • Armenian տատրակ tatrak turtle dove
              • Old Persian
                • Middle Persian *tadurug
                  • Arabic تَدْرُج tadruj pheasant
                    • Persian دراج dorrâj partridge, francolin
                      • Ottoman Turkish تراج turac black francolin
                        • Turkish turaç black francolin
                        • Georgian დურაჯი duraǯi black francolin
                        • Russian тура́ч turáč black francolin


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Collected English words

Tarshish, Tartessos, Tartarus, turtle, Tortuga, tortoise, turtle, turtledove, Tetrax, Tetrix, Tetrao


  1. ^

    Classical Greek Τάρτᾰρος Tártaros: "Tartarus, Hades, Hell" was thought by Strabo to be a fanciful modification of Ταρτησσός Tartēssós, a semi-mythical port beyond the Pillars of Herakles (in southwest Iberia). I am unaware of any better ideas since then.

    Ταρτησσός Tartēssós may in turn represent a Phoenician colony, possibly cognate with Phoenician 𐤕𐤓𐤔𐤔‎ tršš and Hebrew תַּרְשִׁישׁ Taršīš. In Ezekiel 27, Tarshish is said to have "exchanged silver, iron, tin and lead" for the merchandise of Tyre—which is pretty much what the Phoenicians were doing in southwest Iberia.

    The ethnonym Tartar is a modification of Old Turkic 𐱃𐱃𐰺 Tatar by association with Tartarus, so the form Tatar is preferable, being more accurate and less judgmental. The naming of "steak tartare" is likewise based on Medieval European derogatory ideas of Tatars and other steppe cultures.

  2. ^

    The Greek ταρταροῦχος tartaroûkhos: "keepers of Tartarus" is used in the apocrypha Apocalypse of Paul to refer to a class of demons who torture damned souls in hell, and one or two other early gnostic/hermetic sources.

    Medieval Latin tortuca: "turtle, tortoise" is of unknown origin, but one possibility is that turtles got associated with these demons and it comes from tartaroûkhos, or a related form like (thērion) tartaroûkhon -> (bēstia) tartaruca -> tortuca. This could have been influenced by sound similarity to testūdō: "turtle, tortoise" (from testa: "pot, pottery, tile, shell", itself of disputed origin). The other likely possibility is that it could be from tortus: "twisted" due the shape of turtle's legs and feet.

    I have seen several sources say that turtles were associated with the underworld in Late Hellenic/Early Christian symbolism but not any source that seems particularly definitive. While there definitely were some negative associations (turtles representing the burden of sin, etc.), I'm not yet sure someone didn't made up the association with the underworld at some point to justify connecting tortuca with tartaroûkhos.

  3. ^

    Latin turtur could be related to all the *tetr- bird words; but it is the only one with an r in the first syllable, and one of the few that does not refer to a bird from the order Galliformes (landfowl).

    It could also be an independent onomatopoeia, or it could be related to the Northwest Semitic words: Hebrew ​​תּוֹר tōr and Ugaritic 𐎚𐎗 tr: "turtle dove".

  4. ^

    Verb forms of the root *teter- probably don't exist. The two possibilities are Greek τετράζω (tetrázō) ‘cackle’ and Latin tetrinniō ‘quack’. Greek -azō verbs are usually later formations (not inherited from PIE) and Latin -inniō verbs are, as far as I know, all onomatopoeias: (ad)hinniō: "whinny", tinniō: "jingle, clink" (whence tinnitus), and tertinniō: quack" are basically the whole set. There is no particular evidence that any of the Latin inniō verbs are inherited from PIE, and no decent path derive tertinniō from *teter-. A -ne- infix verb form would be the closest thing, and there's a whole bunch of things wrong with that idea.