A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Words with Webster: Tortoiseshell, Plus Friendly Fill-Ins

We have two fun Friday features for you today. First up is Real Cat Webster, who has a colorful word to share. After that, it’s on to Friendly Fill-Ins!

Words with Webster

Words with Webster
Hi, everybody! It’s me, Real Cat Webster. Welcome to Words with Me. Today’s word is “tortoiseshell.” I got the idea for this word because Paisley told me I better do it or she’d whap me. She’s bossy sometimes. Anyway, most of you probably recognize that, in reference to cats, “tortoiseshell” means a certain color pattern or a cat with that pattern:
of, relating to, or being a color pattern of the domestic cat consisting of patches of black, orange, and cream (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.)
I checked in the Oxford English Dictionary, which says that the earliest known use of “tortoiseshell cat” in print was in 1840:
Oh, what a pretty little kitten! what a beautiful little dear tortoiseshell! (Peter Parley’s Annual, 113)
And did you know that there is a tortoiseshell butterfly too? Our UK friends might know this, because according to UK Butterflies, the small tortoiseshell (Nymphalidae aglais) is a familiar garden butterfly there. They are very pretty, aren't they?

Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Nymphalidae aglais). Photo via Adobe Stock.
Small tortoiseshell butterfly.
Photo via Adobe Stock.

But back to the word. Certain cats and butterflies are called tortoiseshells because their coloring resembles that of ornamental material made from the shell of some tortoises, especially the hawksbill sea turtle. This material was used as far back as ancient times for jewelry and other ornamentation. It is quite beautiful, but its use is obviously really bad for the hawksbill sea turtles, which are critically endangered. Legal trade in tortoiseshell ended in 1993, but illegal trade continues (US Fish & Wildlife, 2015).

Tortoiseshell dragon ornament
Tortoiseshell has been used to make many
beautiful things, like this dragon ornament
from China's Qing Dynasty, ca. 1736-1795.
Photo by Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle. Photo via Adobe Stock.
But we think tortoiseshell is most beautiful when it
is still on the turtle.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle photo via Adobe Stock.

On a lighter note, we found this kind of fun quote about tortoiseshell from Charles Dickens:
The tortershell would have affected the brain. (Nicolas Nickleby xv.131, 1839)
We’re not sure of the context of this quote, but we do know a certain tortoiseshell kitty who can sometimes affect the brain!

But back to the word again. Of course “tortoiseshell” was originally used to refer to the shell of a tortoise. That usage shows up in 1601, in this quote that is actually a translation from Pliny’s History of the World:
Among the Islands principally in the red sea, they use Tortoise shells…for boats and wherries. (I.ix.x.241, P. Holland, translator)
Obviously our word is a compound of "tortoise" and "shell," so I went to the Online Etymology Dictionary to see where the word “tortoise” came from. This word may have ultimately come from the Late Latin tartaruchus, which means “of the underworld.” Or perhaps it is from the Latin tortus, meaning “twisted” (referring to tortoises’ feet). “Shell” came from Old English sciell, Proto-Germanic skaljo, Middle Low German schelle, and the Proto-Indo-European root skel, “to cut.”

Hmm.… Is “shell of the underworld” an apt description of a tortie cat? Discuss.

Today's word brought to you by Real Cat Paisley--a real tortie for sure!

Friendly Fill-Ins

Friendly Fill-InsAnd now it’s time for Friendly Fill-Ins, from 15andmeowing and McGuffy’s Reader. They are a fun way to learn a little bit about the authors of the blogs you read. The first two questions, answered by Real Cat Paisley this week, are from Ellen of 15andmeowing, and the next two, answered by old SoLT, are from Annie of McGuffy’s Reader.

Real Cat Paisley’s answers:
1. Trust is earned and can be lost. For example, when I am starving and Mommy tries to give me food that is icky, I lose some of my trust in her.

2. I would protest an empty food dish. Oh wait, I already do that at least twice a day!

Old SoLT’s answers:

3. I have been almost constantly cold since December. It is really getting on my nerves!

4. Right now, I hope it’s good and cloudy today so that groundhog doesn’t see even a hint of his shadow. Come on, spring!


  1. "Shell of the underworld", I am not owned by a tortie, but from reading about other torties, it's seems fitting. I look forward to hearing from others.

  2. Paisley sounds like our Penny, they both have tortitude- is that word in the dictionary? Thanks to Paisley and your mom for participating in the fill-ins. It has been too cold this winter. I hope you have a nice weekend and that food dish stays full :) XO

  3. The shell must always remain on the sea turtle. Thank you for making that clear Paisley.

  4. There was a really funny old Saturday Night Live skit, with John Belushi and Buck Henry, called Samurai Optometrist, where he makes tortoiseshell glasses with a flick of his sword! I too prefer the shell stay on the tortoise or turtle, that's for sure!

  5. That was interesting about the tortoiseshell, and of course it should stay on the turtles. We get lots of tortoiseshell and other butterflies in our fields.

  6. Paisley, you are gorgeous. I didn't know the term "tortie" until I started blogging. I'm pretty sure Kitty was part tortie (she had a huge ginger splotch on her back and one white paw) - but she was a tabby in every other way. I kind of have a soft-spot for torties - I don't know why exactly - they just capture my imagination. That's probably why Bear confesses to loving them ... he speaks for me!

  7. So interesting - we had a tortie named Jezebel.

  8. Tortoiseshell is one of the most beautiful words in the English language!!! I'm so glad Paisley whapped you into investigating it's history ;)

  9. Mom used to have a Tortoiseshell hair comb that belonged to her Grandmother. It was absolutely beautiful. Alas it got lost in one of the 27 moves that she and dad did. Mom also had a Tortoiseshell cat (named Kitty) that looked very much like real cat Paisley!
    And we want to thank you for the prayers for Mom's Dad. He is doing a little better and they are hoping he will be well enough to have an MRI on Monday so they can determine next steps. Mom is still a little worried,

  10. Great answers! Mom has never had a tortie.
    The Florida Furkids

  11. Very creative answering here. We had a tortie for 14 years. Tootsie had a classic tortietude. She was small, but fierce. Our coydog, Polly, used to pick Tootsie up by her head. Tootsie allowed it! We would yell to Polly to "PUT HER DOWN." Tootsie would sit down, looking quite angry, and slowly walk away, chin sticking out, eyes ablaze. She never got mad at Polly, really, just irritated. Annie at ~McGuffy's Reader~