AskDefine | Define tabby

Dictionary Definition

tabby adj : having a gray or brown streak or a pattern or a patchy coloring; used especially of the patterned fur of cats [syn: brindled, brindle, brinded]


1 a cat with a gray or tawny coat mottled with black [syn: tabby cat]
2 female cat [syn: queen]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /ˈtæb.i/
  • Rhymes with: -æbi


  1. A kind of waved silk, usually called watered silk, manufactured like taffeta, but thicker and stronger. The watering is given to it by calendering.
  2. A mixture of lime with shells, gravel, or stones, in equal proportions, with an equal proportion of water. When dry, this becomes as hard as rock.
  3. A brindled cat
  4. An old maid or gossip.





  1. Having a wavy or watered appearance; as, a tabby waistcoat.
  2. Brindled; diversified in color; as, a tabby cat.



Extensive Definition

A tabby cat is a cat with a distinctive coat that features stripes, dots, or swirling patterns. Tabbies are often mistakenly assumed to be a breed of cat. In fact, the tabby pattern is a naturally occurring feature that may be the original coloration of the domestic cat's distant ancestors. Tabby color is found in many breeds of cat, as well as among the general 'moggy' (mixed-breed or mongrel) population. When cats are allowed to breed randomly, the coloration of the population tends toward brown mackerel tabbies with green eyes, leading geneticists to believe that this is the common wild phenotype of the domestic cat. The tabby usually has an "M" mark on its forehead.
The word comes from French tabis, which was earlier atabis, and in medieval Latin attabi. The initial origin of the word seems to be from the Attabiyah section of Baghdad where a type of striped silk was made that was later used to describe cats.

Tabby patterns


There are four tabby patterns that have been shown to be genetically distinct: mackerel, classic, spotted and ticked. A fifth includes tabby as part of another basic color pattern, the "patched" tabby, which may be a calico or tortoiseshell cat with tabby patches (the latter is called a "torbie"). The steel-white of the fur is what gives it its name.

Genetic explanations

In cat genetics, pattern is unrelated to color, and so the tabby pattern may occur in any cat color, including tortoiseshell (tortoiseshell tabby cats are often called 'torbies'). White spotting of any level can also appear in combination with tabby patterns.
The tabby patterns are due to 3 distinct gene loci and one modifier:
The agouti gene, A/a, controls whether or not the tabby pattern is expressed. The dominant A reveals the underlying tabby pattern, while the recessive non-agouti or "hypermelanistic" allele, a, prevents it. Solid-color (black or blue) cats have the aa combination, hiding the tabby pattern, although sometimes a suggestion of the underlying pattern can be seen (called "ghost striping"). However, the O gene for orange color suppresses the aa genotype, so there is no such thing as a solid orange cat.
The primary tabby pattern gene, Mc/mc, sets the basic pattern of stripes that underlies the coat. Mc is the wild-type tabby gene and produces what is called a 'mackerel striped' tabby. 'Classic' tabbies are cats who also possess mc, a recessive mutant gene that produces the blotched pattern.
The ticked pattern is on a different gene locus than the mackerel and classic tabby patterns and is epistatic to the other patterns. A dominant mutation, Ta / ta, masks any other tabby pattern, producing a non-patterned or 'agouti' tabby with virtually no stripes or bars. If the ticked pattern gene is present, any other tabby pattern is masked. Cats homozygous for the ticked allele (Ta / Ta) have less barring than cats heterozygous for the ticked allele.

State Law

The tabby cat is the official state cat of Massachusetts pursuant to Mass. Gen. Law ch. 2, §138 (2008).


tabby in German: Tabby
tabby in Modern Greek (1453-): Γάτα tabby
tabby in Spanish: Tabby (gato)
tabby in Italian: Gatto Soriano
tabby in Latin: Attabi

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Cheshire cat, Chinchilla cat, Maltese cat, a tale-bearing animal, alley cat, banded, barred, blue cat, brinded, brindle, brindled, busybody, calico cat, cat, feline, gib, gib-cat, gossip, gossip columnist, gossiper, gossipmonger, grimalkin, house cat, kit, kitling, kitten, kitty, kitty-cat, listed, maiden lady, marbled, marbleized, mouser, newsmonger, newspaperman, old maid, puss, pussy, pussycat, quidnunc, reporter, rumormonger, scandalmonger, silver cat, spinstress, streaked, streaky, striatal, striate, striated, strigate, strigose, striolate, striped, stripy, tabby cat, talebearer, taleteller, tattler, tattletale, telltale, tiger cat, tittle-tattler, tom, tomcat, tortoise-shell cat, veined, watered, yenta
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