Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. One that turns a roasting spit.
  • n. A roasting spit that can be turned.
  • n. A dog formerly used in a treadmill to turn a roasting spit.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A person employed in turning a spit for the purpose of roasting meat.
  • n. A short-legged, long-bodied dog, now extinct, bred to run on a wheel to turn a spit.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. One who turns a spit; hence, a person engaged in some menial office.
  • n. A small breed of dogs having a long body and short crooked legs. These dogs were formerly much used for turning a spit on which meat was roasting.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A person who turns a spit.
  • n. A kind of dog of small size, long-bodied and short-legged, formerly used to work a kind of treadmill-wheel by means of which a spit was turned.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a roasting spit that can be turned

Etymologies

turn +‎ spit (Wiktionary)

Examples

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  • The fellow simply can't spurn it -
    Will endlessly labor to earn it.
    In pursuit of a rhyme
    He'll spend all his time
    Employed like a dog as a turnspit.

    June 5, 2014

  • "One who turns a spit; hence, a person engaged in some menial office."
    --GNU Webster's 1913

    October 23, 2012

  • In former times, turnspits were operated variously by clockwork mechanisms, dogs enclosed in a revolving round cage (a larger version of the pet gerbil treadmill), or by young apprentices with perpetually burned faces.

    January 7, 2009

  • I knew what I was about in the art of dressing meat. Dame Leonarda, with whom I had served my time, might have passed for a very decent plain cook; but a mere turnspit to dame Jacintha.

    - Lesage, The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane, tr. Smollett, bk 2 ch. 1

    September 13, 2008

  • In the Bewick book, looks quite like a corgi or Jack Russell-type dog.

    August 26, 2008