Okay, I admit it. The only use of tabby I’m all that familiar with is the cat–and I didn’t know until we rescued a tabby kitten that tabby just means striped. (There was totally a call to the vet that answered the question of “Color?” with “I don’t know, a kind of brownish with darker stripes?” which lead to, “Oh, so a tabby.” Insert me answering, “Is that what that means?”)
But what can I say? Tabby just isn’t used anymore in its original meaning–namely, to describe striped silk.
Yep, that’s right. Tabby was first used in English in 1630 to describe a striped silk taffeta that the French called tabis…which they in turn had shortened from atabis. Which the French in turn had borrowed from Arabic ‘attabi, which is shortened from ‘Attabiyah.
And what, you ask, is ‘Attabiyah? It’s the neighborhood in which said striped silk was first created in Bagdhad. And that neighborhood was said to be named after a prince, ‘Attab of the Omayyad dynasty.
So there you have it. The cute striped cats are totally named after a prince. (The word wasn’t applied to cats until the 1770s though!)