It is an 18th century term for tiger cat! I read somewhere that the term dates to the 1770s which means Mozart could have run across a tabby cat. Thomas Jefferson surely had one. It is funny, you know, to think that today's cats are descendants from the cats back then.
It takes pretty cats to make pretty music, as Lester Young said. That is why Pennario was a great pianist.
Anyway, our cat. It is not the one in the picture above but it almost could be. Our cat has a little more orange. Otherwise it seems typical of tabby cats. It is a Mackerel Tabby, also known as a tiger cat. And when it is sleeping it looks like this picture.
What a beautiful kind of cat! Tabby is not a breed, though. It is just a description. From reading up on things I believe there is no way to determine what breed of cat ours is. They just seem like cats that are everywhere. Good thing, too, because tabbies are supposed to be very smart and also very cuddly and not aloof as cats are supposed to be. That is our cat! Googling around I saw that tabbies like to lie in their owners' laps. And if you let them into your bed they will sleep with you.
Because they are so loving they are known as "the dogs among cats." They have the letter "M" on their forehead which folklore says is the blessing of the Virgin Mary.