"... He stomped downstairs, clumps of mud falling off his shoes. My hands turtled into fists." p.400 Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I have tried looking for the verb 'to turtle' online but I cannot find anything that would explain its meaning in this context.

  • 1
    The author is turning "turtle" into a verb that means to withdraw and get smaller, like a turtle pulling into its shell. This isn't a standard definition of "turtle."
    – SarahT
    Apr 8, 2020 at 0:21
  • To my ear, it's such an irregular, and not particularly evocative metaphor that my first thought would be that it is a misprint of "turned". I probably sound too literal here, but given one's fingers don't actually retract into the palm, it doesn't sound poetic, but instead rather clunky. Apr 8, 2020 at 6:23
  • Thank you, Sarah and 'kettle_hands'! You have been very helpful and for that I am grateful. Apr 8, 2020 at 10:58
  • 2
    I like it as a metaphor! It gives the image of the withdrawing fingers, and making something hard. "Turned into" would be dull writing, by comparison. I don't find it clunky or unevocative, quite the opposite. Different strokes for different folks.
    – James K
    Apr 8, 2020 at 11:07

1 Answer 1


Turtles go into their shells, withdrawing their limbs and head until they look like this: enter image description here

As you’ve observed, turtles have little to do with fists. However, turtles can withdraw their limbs into themselves, and a hand can withdraw its fingers into a fist, like this: enter image description here

(this image is under Creative Commons Attribute-Share Alike 4.0 International and is from Genustografen and Wikimedia Sverige)

So the writer is trying to make you think of a turtle pulling its fleshy parts into its body when describing someone clenching their first, so as to create a memorable image, and maybe to imply something about the person clenching their fist or their manner of doing it based on our impressions of turtles. So it might give an impression, perhaps, of defensiveness, or vulnerability, if those are what we associate with turtles pulling their limbs into their shell.

Hope that helps!

  • Thank you for your profound answer! I didn't extend my imagination far enough to realize the hidden meaning, but now I'm totally understanding it. Apr 8, 2020 at 11:10
  • @ManolisGustavsson that’s good! I don’t mean to presume, but you can accept an answer to a question by clicking on the tick below the vote count if you think it answers your question completely. Apr 9, 2020 at 1:19

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