What does “tabby” mean?

The question, “what does tabby mean?” is asked on the Internet. I’m sure that when people are asking the question they are referring to the coat of a domestic cat. This is because the word “tabby” is most commonly heard in the English language in reference to a tabby cat.

tabby cat

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The tabby coat is the most common type found on the domestic cat. In fact, all the wild cats also have a tabby coat of sorts although I’m not sure that the same genes are present in the wild cats as they are in the domestic cat – they probably are.

It is believed that the word “tabby” originates in the appearance of silk sold in Baghdad, Iraq. There is a region near Baghdad called “Attabiyah” or “Hayy at Tarbiyah” or simply “Tarbiyah”, I am not sure. I presume that the region was known for selling silks that had a striped appearance (watered, wavy silk). Side note: there is a Tarbiyah Academy in the USA near Baltimore.

You can perhaps detect the word “tabby” hidden in the name as “tarbi” or “tabi”. The word “tabby”, as you know, is pronounced “tabi”. If someone can clarify or be precise in a comment it would be most welcome.

“Attabiyah” appears to been created from the Latin “attabi” and later the French word “tabis” which mean watered silk as far as I am aware.

The look of watered silk is somewhat like the look of a marbles (or marble) tabby cat and thus the word tabby was used to describe such a coat.

There are three kinds of tabby coat: spotted, classic or marbled and striped or mackerel.

I hope that this explains what the word “tabby” means.

The cat illustrated page is a mackerel tabby and the photo was taken by a Brazilian lady whose Flickr username is fofurasfelinas.

4 thoughts on “What does “tabby” mean?”

  1. All wildcats (as in “wildcat” i.e. wild subspecies of Felis Silvestris and not any wild feline) have the same tabby color pattern except for minor differences in circle patterns on the tail, and markings that most people wouldn’t tell. I’ve even seen some clueless guy ask a question on YT on an European wildcat video “since when are tabbies endangered”.

  2. So many tabbies in my world.
    They can be of different colors and patterns.

    There are really only 5 patterns though:
    Mackerel Tabby
    Classic Tabby, sometimes called blotched
    Spotted Tabby
    Ticked Tabby
    Patched Tabby

    But, the telltale sign is the distinctive “M’s” on their foreheads. Some even have pencil lines that extend down the sides of their noses.


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