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[bris-uh l] /ˈbrɪs əl/
one of the short, stiff, coarse hairs of certain animals, especially hogs, used extensively in making brushes.
anything resembling these hairs.
verb (used without object), bristled, bristling.
to stand or rise stiffly, like bristles.
to erect the bristles, as an irritated animal (often followed by up):
The hog bristled up.
to become rigid with anger or irritation:
The man bristled when I asked him to move.
to be thickly set or filled with something suggestive of bristles:
The plain bristled with bayonets. The project bristled with difficulties.
to be visibly roused or stirred (usually followed by up).
verb (used with object), bristled, bristling.
to erect like bristles:
The rooster bristled his crest.
to furnish with a bristle or bristles.
to make bristly.
Origin of bristle
before 1000; Middle English bristel, equivalent to brist (Old English byrst bristle, cognate with German Borste, Old Norse burst) + -el diminutive suffix
Related forms
bristleless, adjective
bristlelike, adjective
nonbristled, adjective
unbristled, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for bristling
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Seeing the high indifference of this small, bristling stranger, the ram stepped up and was just about to sniff at him inquiringly.

    The Watchers of the Trails Charles G. D. Roberts
  • The long pikes were lowered, steadied, held in bristling line.

    The Northern Iron George A. Birmingham
  • He was a small man with a rasping voice and sharp nose, while the bristling growth about his chin was red and his hair brown.

    Joyce's Investments Fannie E. Newberry
  • A monitor passed, bristling with guns and painted a vivid green.

    In Mesopotamia Martin Swayne
  • Here was a sentiment concocted of pity and anger as well as of admiration, and bristling with scruples and doubts and fears.

    Madame de Mauves Henry James
  • “Madame had better put on her hat at once,” he added, bristling with authority.

    The Golden Face William Le Queux
  • He had evidently prepared his speech carefully, it was bristling with innuendoes; sneering side-hits at strange sins.

British Dictionary definitions for bristling


any short stiff hair of an animal or plant
something resembling these hair: toothbrush bristle
when intr, often foll by up. to stand up or cause to stand up like bristles: the angry cat's fur bristled
(intransitive) sometimes foll by up. to show anger, indignation, etc: she bristled at the suggestion
(intransitive) to be thickly covered or set: the target bristled with arrows
(intransitive) to be in a state of agitation or movement: the office was bristling with activity
(transitive) to provide with a bristle or bristles
Derived Forms
bristly, adjective
Word Origin
C13 bristil, brustel, from earlier brust, from Old English byrst; related to Old Norse burst, Old High German borst
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for bristling



Old English byrst "bristle," with metathesis of -r-, from Proto-Germanic *bursti- (cf. Middle Dutch borstel, German borste), from PIE *bhrsti- from root *bhars- "point, bristle" (cf. Sanskrit bhrstih "point, spike"). With -el, diminutive suffix.


c.1200 (implied in past participle adjective bristled) "set or covered with bristles," from bristle (n.). Meaning "become angry or excited" is 1540s, from the way animals show fight. Related: Bristling.



c.1200 (implied in past participle adjective bristled) "set or covered with bristles," from bristle (n.). Meaning "become angry or excited" is 1540s, from the way animals show fight. Related: Bristling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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