verb (used with object)

to polish (a surface) by friction.
to make smooth and bright.
Engraving. to flatten and enlarge the dots of (a halftone) by rubbing with a tool.


gloss; brightness; luster: the burnish of brass andirons.

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

Synonyms for burnish

1. buff, shine.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for burnish

Contemporary Examples of burnish

  • Sandoval has also managed to burnish his image with a patina of integrity in the scandal-scarred Silver State.

  • This means that even women who are not employed in factories will get the chance to burnish career-building skills.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Women: The World’s Best Investment

    A Daily Beast Sponsor

    February 19, 2013

  • At this point, it is the only way for the Brothers to burnish their revolutionary credentials.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Morsi's Miscalculation

    Steven Cook

    November 26, 2012

  • For Palin, of course, Israel also offers a chance to burnish her famously weak foreign policy credentials.

    The Daily Beast logo
    What's Palin Doing in Israel?

    Dan Ephron

    March 21, 2011

  • In 1961, Kennedy took a Latin American trip to burnish credentials for a 1962 Senate bid.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Inside the Kennedy Death Threats

    Adam Clymer

    June 14, 2010

Historical Examples of burnish

  • 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



to make or become shiny or smooth by friction; polish


a shiny finish; lustre
Derived Formsburnishable, adjectiveburnisher, noun

Word Origin for burnish

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper