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verb (used with object)
  1. to polish (a surface) by friction.
  2. to make smooth and bright.
  3. Engraving. to flatten and enlarge the dots of (a halftone) by rubbing with a tool.
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  1. gloss; brightness; luster: the burnish of brass andirons.
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Origin of burnish

1275–1325; Middle English burnissh < Anglo-French burniss-, Middle French bruniss- (long stem of burnir, brunir to darken, polish), equivalent to brun- brown + -iss- -ish2
Related formsbur·nish·a·ble, adjectivebur·nish·ment, nounun·bur·nished, adjective


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1. buff, shine.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for burnish

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • The burnish was gone from every part of the landscape, and a mild twilight reigned.

    Feats on the Fiord

    Harriet Martineau

  • The perfect night sky shone coldly with the burnish of its million stars.

    The Heart of Unaga

    Ridgwell Cullum

  • Their first care was to burnish up their armour and their weapons.

  • Burnish them if necessary, and you will see a band of light reflected from each wire.

  • This was a great avenue of trees, lined with the burnish of copper beeches.

    The Spell of Belgium

    Isabel Anderson

British Dictionary definitions for burnish


  1. to make or become shiny or smooth by friction; polish
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  1. a shiny finish; lustre
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Derived Formsburnishable, adjectiveburnisher, noun

Word Origin

C14 burnischen, from Old French brunir to make brown, from brun brown
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 burnish


early 14c., from Old French burniss- present participle stem of burnir, metathesis of brunir "to shine, gleam, sparkle" (trans.), "to polish, make sparkle, make bright, shine," from brun "brown; polished," from a Germanic source (cf. Old High German brun, Old Norse brunn "bright, polished; brown;" see brown (adj.)). The connection to "brown" might be explained if the original objects in mind were wooden ones. Related: Burnished; burnishing.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper