Burnish vs tarnish

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Burnish and tarnish are two similar-sounding words that have very different definitions. We will look at the difference in meaning between burnish and tarnish, where the words come from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Burnish means to polish something by rubbing it, to make something shine, to enhance appearance. Burnish is used literally and figuratively. It may be used as a transitive verb, which is a verb that takes an object, as well as a noun to mean the shine of a polished surface. Related words are burnishes, burnished, burnishing. Burnish is derived from the Old French word stem burniss-, which means to shine, to make bright, to sparkle.

Tarnish means to lose or cause to lose shine or luster, usually because of oxidation caused by exposure to air or moisture. Tarnish is also a word that is also used literally and figuratively. It is used as a transitive verb or as a noun to mean the condition of being less shiny. Related words are tarnishes, tarnished, tarnishing. Tarnish is derived from the Old French word stem terniss-, which means dark or dull.


The wax surface won’t accept paint, so Schempp inlays animal figures by photocopying small silhouettes of animals, placing the photocopies upside down on the wax and burnishing them until the toner in the copy causes the image to transfer. (The Hartford Courant)

Since both Roberts and Smith are academic historians and not publicists or acolytes with a need to burnish either man’s image, the book’s conclusions are extensively researched and amply documented. (The Lincoln Journal-Star)

Guides dressed in Southern period costumes give tours throughout the mansion, and you’ll need their insights or you won’t have a clue that the gold mantel clock you were staring at once belonged to Marie Antoinette or those tarnished silver spoons in the glass case were from Napoleon’s collection (The Huffington Post)

Michael Cheika has accused Eddie Jones of tarnishing his legacy with his “vitriolic” comments about Australia during the series whitewash over the Wallabies last summer, and denied claims England were disrespected by the Australian media during the tour. (The Guardian)