1. a preparation consisting of resinous matter, as copal or lac, dissolved in an oil (oil varnish) or in alcohol (spirit varnish) or other volatile liquid. When applied to the surface of wood, metal, etc., it dries and leaves a hard, more or less glossy, usually transparent coating.
  2. the sap of certain trees, used for the same purpose (natural varnish).
  3. any of various other preparations similarly used, as one having India rubber, pyroxylin, or asphalt as its chief constituent.
  4. a coating or surface of varnish.
  5. something resembling or suggesting a coat of varnish; gloss.
  6. superficial polish or external show, especially to conceal some defect or inadequacy: The play has a varnish of witty dialogue.
  7. British. nail polish.

verb (used with object)

  1. to apply varnish to; coat or cover with varnish.
  2. to give a glossy appearance to.
  3. to give an improved appearance to; adorn.
  4. to give a superficially pleasing appearance to, especially in order to deceive: to varnish the truth.


  1. Also called: oil varnish a preparation consisting of a solvent, a drying oil, and usually resin, rubber, bitumen, etc, for application to a surface where it polymerizes to yield a hard glossy, usually transparent, coating
  2. a similar preparation consisting of a substance, such as shellac or cellulose ester, dissolved in a volatile solvent, such as alcohol. It hardens to a film on evaporation of the solventSee also spirit varnish
  3. Also called: natural varnish the sap of certain trees used to produce such a coating
  4. a smooth surface, coated with or as with varnish
  5. an artificial, superficial, or deceptively pleasing manner, covering, etc; veneer
  6. mainly British another word for nail polish

verb (tr)

  1. to cover with varnish
  2. to give a smooth surface to, as if by painting with varnish
  3. to impart a more attractive appearance to
  4. to make superficially attractive

late 14c.; see varnish (n.). Related: Varnished; varnishing.


mid-14c., from Old French vernis “varnish” (12c.), from Medieval Latin vernix “odorous resin,” perhaps from Late Greek verenike, from Greek Berenike, name of an ancient city in Libya (modern Bengasi) credited with the first use of varnishes. The town is named for Berenike II, queen of Egypt (see Berenice). Figurative sense of “specious gloss, pretense,” is recorded from 1560s.

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