The word comes from the Old French tourbout, which in turn is thought to be a derivative of the Latin turbo ("spinning top") a possible reference to its shape. Another possible origin of the Old French word is from Old Swedish törnbut, from törn "thorn" + -but "stump, butt, flatfish", which may also be a reference to its shape (compare native English halibut). Early reference to the turbot can be found in a satirical poem (The Emperor's Fish) by Juvenal, a Roman poet of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries A.D., suggesting this fish was a delicacy in the Roman empire.
In English, turbot is pronounced / TUR-bət. The French pronunciation of "turbot" is [tyʁbo].
In Turkey, where the fish is popular and expensive, it is called kalkan ("shield"), from its shape. Instead of a smooth skin, kalkan (Scophthalmus maeoticus), which is from the Black Sea, has small spikes on both sides; it is considered a subspecies of the Mediterranean turbot (Scophthalmus maximus).