the process or art of converting hides or skins into leather.
a browning or darkening of the skin, as by exposure to the sun.
Informal. a thrashing; whipping.

Origin of tanning

First recorded in 1475–85; tan1, + -ing1
Related formsnon·tan·ning, adjective



verb (used with object), tanned, tan·ning.

to convert (a hide) into leather, especially by soaking or steeping in a bath prepared from tanbark or synthetically.
to make brown by exposure to ultraviolet rays, as of the sun.
Informal. to thrash; spank.

verb (used without object), tanned, tan·ning.

to become tanned.


the brown color imparted to the skin by exposure to the sun or open air.
yellowish brown; light brown.

adjective, tan·ner, tan·nest.

of the color of tan; yellowish-brown.
used in or relating to tanning processes, materials, etc.

Origin of tan

before 1000; 1920–25 for def 2; Middle English tannen to make hide into leather, late Old English *tannian (in past participle getanned; cf. tanner1) < Medieval Latin tannāre, derivative of tannum oak bark, tanbark < Germanic; compare Old High German tanna oak, fir, akin to Dutch den fir
Related formstan·na·ble, adjectiveun·tanned, adjectivewell-tanned, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for tanning

Contemporary Examples of tanning

Historical Examples of tanning

  • What have you to do with the beating of skins and the tanning of leather?'

    Micah Clarke

    Arthur Conan Doyle

  • He had killed several deer and was tanning the hides at the time we arrived.

  • But there were other reasons why he was ordered to leave the tanning business.

  • The bark, too, is excellent for tanning—almost equal to that of the oak.

  • Hides are also tanned by the use of chemicals, in what is called "chrome" tanning.

    Makers of Many Things

    Eva March Tappan

British Dictionary definitions for tanning




the brown colour produced by the skin after intensive exposure to ultraviolet rays, esp those of the sun
a light or moderate yellowish-brown colour
short for tanbark

verb tans, tanning or tanned

to go brown or cause to go brown after exposure to ultraviolet raysshe tans easily
to convert (a skin or hide) into leather by treating it with a tanning agent, such as vegetable tannins, chromium salts, fish oils, or formaldehyde
(tr) slang to beat or flog

adjective tanner or tannest

of the colour tantan gloves
used in or relating to tanning
Derived Formstannable, adjectivetannish, adjective

Word Origin for tan

Old English tannian (unattested as infinitive, attested as getanned, past participle), from Medieval Latin tannāre, from tannum tanbark, perhaps of Celtic origin; compare Irish tana thin



abbreviation for

tangent (sense 2)
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 tanning



late Old English tannian "to convert hide into leather" (by steeping it in tannin), from Medieval Latin tannare "tan, dye, a tawny color" (c.900), from tannum "crushed oak bark," used in tanning leather, probably from a Celtic source (e.g. Breton tann "oak tree"). The meaning "make brown by exposure to the sun" first recorded 1520s. To tan (someone's) hide in the figurative sense is from 1660s. Related: Tanned; tanning.



"bronze color imparted to skin by exposure to sun," 1749, see tan (v.). As a simple name for a brownish color, in any context, it is recorded from 1888. The adjective tan "of the color of tanned leather" is recorded from 1660s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

tanning in Science


Abbreviation of tangent
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.