• synonyms


[bris-uh l]
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  1. one of the short, stiff, coarse hairs of certain animals, especially hogs, used extensively in making brushes.
  2. anything resembling these hairs.
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verb (used without object), bris·tled, bris·tling.
  1. to stand or rise stiffly, like bristles.
  2. to erect the bristles, as an irritated animal (often followed by up): The hog bristled up.
  3. to become rigid with anger or irritation: The man bristled when I asked him to move.
  4. to be thickly set or filled with something suggestive of bristles: The plain bristled with bayonets. The project bristled with difficulties.
  5. to be visibly roused or stirred (usually followed by up).
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verb (used with object), bris·tled, bris·tling.
  1. to erect like bristles: The rooster bristled his crest.
  2. to furnish with a bristle or bristles.
  3. to make bristly.
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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 formsbris·tle·less, adjectivebris·tle·like, adjectivenon·bris·tled, adjectiveun·bris·tled, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for bristle

fume, seethe, bridle, fiber, point, spine, thorn, barb, feeler, whisker, prickle, stubble, vibrissa, quill, ruffle, spit, rage, flare, swell, rise

Examples from the Web for bristle

Contemporary Examples of bristle

Historical Examples of bristle

  • Pete bristled—as much as a fat man could bristle on so hot a day.

    Good Indian

    B. M. Bower

  • How was he to know that this thing that sniffed was a thing at which to bristle?

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • The whole place, behind the fence, appeared to bristle and resound.


    Henry James

  • The mane on his back began to bristle, and I knew that I had but a small second in which to act.

    Wood Folk at School

    William J. Long

  • Hill began to bristle and to look around in search of the one who had spoken.

British Dictionary definitions for bristle


  1. any short stiff hair of an animal or plant
  2. something resembling these hairtoothbrush bristle
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  1. (when intr , often foll by up) to stand up or cause to stand up like bristlesthe angry cat's fur bristled
  2. (intr sometimes foll by up) to show anger, indignation, etcshe bristled at the suggestion
  3. (intr) to be thickly covered or setthe target bristled with arrows
  4. (intr) to be in a state of agitation or movementthe office was bristling with activity
  5. (tr) to provide with a bristle or bristles
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Derived Formsbristly, adjective

Word Origin for bristle

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

Word Origin and History for bristle


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.

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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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper