[bris-uh l]
See more synonyms for bristle on
  1. one of the short, stiff, coarse hairs of certain animals, especially hogs, used extensively in making brushes.
  2. anything resembling these hairs.
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).
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.

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 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for bristling

fume, seethe, bridle, ruffle, spit, rage, flare, swell, rise, boil

Examples from the Web for bristling

Contemporary Examples of bristling

Historical Examples of bristling

  • We could see the shafts of the darts fast in the cleft, bristling in the moonlight.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • "See you in Guinea first," muttered Bandy-legs, bristling up.

  • Ah, that beautiful and mysterious shore, all bristling with rocks!

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • Slowly, slowly, the bristling ball straightened out and lengthened.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • He faced the boy, bristling and snarling, his sense of justice outraged.

    White Fang

    Jack London

British Dictionary definitions for bristling


  1. any short stiff hair of an animal or plant
  2. something resembling these hairtoothbrush bristle
  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
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 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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper