A tabby is any domestic cat (Felis catus) with a distinctive ‘M’ shaped marking on their forehead, stripes by their eyes and across their cheeks, along their back, and around their legs and tail, and (differing by tabby type), characteristic striped, dotted, lined, flecked, banded or swirled patterns on the body—neck, shoulders, sides, flanks, chest and tummy.
“Tabby” is not a breed of cat but a coat type seen in almost all genetic lines of domestic cats, regardless of status. The tabby pattern is found in many official cat breeds and is a hallmark of the landrace extremely common among the general population of cats around the world.
The tabby pattern occurs naturally and is connected both to the coat of the domestic cat’s direct ancestor and to those of their close relatives: the African wildcat (Felis lybica lybica), the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) and the Asiatic wildcat (Felis lybica ornata), all of which have similar coats, both by pattern and coloration. A genetic study of tabbies found five genetic clusters to be ancestral to cats of various parts of the world.
The English term tabby originates from the translation of the French phrase “striped silk taffeta,” the root of which is tabis, meaning “a rich watered silk.” This can be further traced to the Middle French atabis (14th century), which stemmed from the Arabic term attabiya.
This word is a reference to the neighborhood in Baghdad, Attabiy noted for its striped cloth and silk; such silk cloth became popular in the Muslim world and spread to England, where the word “tabby” became commonly used in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Tabby is also comparable to the Spanish word ataviar, which means “to decorate or to dress or wear” and often implies luxurious clothing.Use of the term tabby cat for a cat with a striped coat began in the 1690s and was shortened to tabby in 1774. The notion that tabby is indicative of a female cat may be due to the feminine proper name Tabby as a shortened form of Tabitha