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[vahr-nish] /ˈvɑr nɪʃ/
a preparation consisting of resinous matter, as copal or lac, dissolved in an oil (oil varnish) or in alcohol (spirit varnish) or other volatile liquid. When applied to the surface of wood, metal, etc., it dries and leaves a hard, more or less glossy, usually transparent coating.
the sap of certain trees, used for the same purpose (natural varnish)
any of various other preparations similarly used, as one having India rubber, pyroxylin, or asphalt as its chief constituent.
a coating or surface of varnish.
something resembling or suggesting a coat of varnish; gloss.
superficial polish or external show, especially to conceal some defect or inadequacy:
The play has a varnish of witty dialogue.
British. nail polish.
verb (used with object)
to apply varnish to; coat or cover with varnish.
to give a glossy appearance to.
to give an improved appearance to; adorn.
to give a superficially pleasing appearance to, especially in order to deceive:
to varnish the truth.
Origin of varnish
1300-50; Middle English varnisch < Middle French vernis, verniz < Medieval Latin vernicium sandarac < Medieval Greek bernī́kē, syncopated variant of Greek Berenī́kē, city in Cyrenaica
Related forms
varnisher, noun
varnishy, adjective
revarnish, verb (used with object)
well-varnished, adjective
11. gild, disguise. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for varnished
Historical Examples
  • A young French officer of Zouaves was coming towards her; his high wrinkled and varnished boots gleamed in the gaslight.

  • They might be varnished, and that would make them look very neat and pretty.

    Forests of Maine Jacob S. Abbott
  • The Bee has varnished the clay of her cell with the saliva applied by her tongue.

    Insect Adventures J. Henri Fabre
  • By that time he must have known every pine knot in the varnished ceiling.

    Laramie Holds the Range Frank H. Spearman
  • Even in the extreme heat Monkey Brand wore a high hat and a long buttoned-up frock-coat and varnished boots.

    Moth and Rust Mary Cholmondeley
  • She was built of pine wood, and varnished without any paint.

    A Voyage round the World W.H.G. Kingston
  • Some seven years ago I varnished a table-top which had been grained.

    Practical Graining William E. (William Edmund) Wall
  • Her hull is varnished a bright yellow colour, and shines in the sun.

    Man on the Ocean R.M. Ballantyne
  • He had a varnished look, and, dressed for the part, would have made a splendid stage pirate.

    The Message Alec John Dawson
  • As the spars have to be varnished, it is best to make them first.

    Boys' Book of Model Boats Raymond Francis Yates
British Dictionary definitions for varnished


Also called oil varnish. a preparation consisting of a solvent, a drying oil, and usually resin, rubber, bitumen, etc, for application to a surface where it polymerizes to yield a hard glossy, usually transparent, coating
a similar preparation consisting of a substance, such as shellac or cellulose ester, dissolved in a volatile solvent, such as alcohol. It hardens to a film on evaporation of the solvent See also spirit varnish
Also called natural varnish. the sap of certain trees used to produce such a coating
a smooth surface, coated with or as with varnish
an artificial, superficial, or deceptively pleasing manner, covering, etc; veneer
(mainly Brit) another word for nail polish
verb (transitive)
to cover with varnish
to give a smooth surface to, as if by painting with varnish
to impart a more attractive appearance to
to make superficially attractive
Derived Forms
varnisher, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Old French vernis, from Medieval Latin veronix sandarac, resin, from Medieval Greek berenikē, perhaps from Greek Berenikē, city in Cyrenaica, Libya where varnishes were used
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 varnished



mid-14c., from Old French vernis "varnish" (12c.), from Medieval Latin vernix "odorous resin," perhaps from Late Greek verenike, from Greek Berenike, name of an ancient city in Libya (modern Bengasi) credited with the first use of varnishes. The town is named for Berenike II, queen of Egypt (see Berenice). Figurative sense of "specious gloss, pretense," is recorded from 1560s.


late 14c.; see varnish (n.). Related: Varnished; varnishing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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