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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Oct 23, 2020 6:48 pm

• tabby •

Pronunciation: tæ-bee • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, adjective

Meaning: 1. Silk taffeta or a dress made from silk taffeta. 2. A common gray, brown, or orange domestic cat with a striped or brindled coat. 3. (Offensive) An old maid, a spinster.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a ball of lexical irony: a word of exotic Middle Eastern origin but today referring to the commonest of house cats (see the Word History for more). It comes without any real family. It can be used as-is for an adjective as in 'tabby cat', 'tabby weave' or in the original sense, 'tabby gown'.

In Play: Most English speakers stopped using today's Good Word to refer to cloth and dresses made from it at the end of the 19th century but that doesn't preclude our reviving its use today: "Maud Lynn Dresser came to the party in a tabby dress that must have been made at the time when all tabby was still striped." But most of our tabbies today are of the feline variety: "Your Abyssinian must have offended my tabby, for I just saw my cat chasing yours pell-mell down the street."

Word History: In the 1630s tabby was striped silk taffeta. The word came from French tabis, a rich, watered silk that originally always bore stripes. Tabis was a reduction of Medieval Latin attabis borrowed in the 14th century from Arabic 'attabiya. 'Attabiy is a quarter of Baghdad, where this watered silk was first made. This section of Baghdad was named for prince 'Attab of the Omayyad dynasty. The name for tabby cats originated in adjectival use, 'tabby-colored cat'. When this phrase was simplified to 'tabby cat', it referred only to female cats, and this sense may have rubbed off on old maids. Some have suggested that this sense of tabby is a reduction of Tabitha, but no one seems to know why this name would have taken on the new meaning. (Thank you Susan Maynard for sensing the exoticity hidden in such a common word as tabby and suggesting it as today's Good Word.)
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Re: Tabby

Postby bbeeton » Sat Oct 24, 2020 7:59 pm

I've been lurking as a reader of the email distribution for years, but I couldn't resist signing up to add a meaning to this post.

In addition to the meanings given, "tabby" (noun) is a construction material, a kind of concrete based on oyster shells, common in the Georgia Low Country. The Wikipedia article ( has a nice picture.

Although it's most common in old structures, it sometimes is used in modern buildings to give a local sense of place. At an inn where we visit, the guest quarters are arranged around a great room with a large tabby fireplace. The front stairs are also constructed of tabby. A welcome sight after a day of exploring. We were prevented from visiting this year by the pandemic but hope to return next spring after the migratory birds arrive, but before the mosquitos.

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Re: Tabby

Postby bnjtokyo » Sat Oct 24, 2020 8:23 pm

Welcome to the Agora, bbeeton. Please post often. And I hope the tabbies around that inn don't catch any of the migratory birds.

Philip Hudson
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Re: Tabby

Postby Philip Hudson » Sat Oct 24, 2020 11:11 pm

Heretofore, I have never had the occasion to use the word tabby. It was barely in my recognition vocabulary. Thanks for enlarging my active vocabulary. I will try to work it into my next conversation, whatever the topic.
It is dark at night, but the Sun will come up and then we can see.

David Myer
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Re: Tabby

Postby David Myer » Sun Oct 25, 2020 1:39 am

Excellent, bbeeton.

This concrete usage I had never come across before. I wonder about its origin as a word. I also wonder if it might be exclusive to North America.


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Re: Tabby

Postby wordlady1 » Sun Oct 25, 2020 5:11 am

They have tabby pavers on some of the sidewalks in Palm Beach.

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