from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To dull the luster of; discolor, especially by exposure to air or dirt.
  • transitive v. To detract from or spoil; taint: a tragedy that tarnished our hopes.
  • transitive v. To cast aspersions on; sully: slander that tarnished the senator's image.
  • intransitive v. To lose luster; become discolored.
  • intransitive v. To diminish or become tainted.
  • n. The condition of being tarnished.
  • n. Discoloration of a metal surface caused by corrosion or oxidation.
  • n. The condition of being sullied or tainted.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Oxidation or discoloration, especially of a decorative metal exposed to air.
  • v. To oxidize or discolor due to oxidation.
  • v. To soil, sully, damage or compromise

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The quality or state of being tarnished; stain; soil; blemish.
  • n. A thin film on the surface of a metal, usually due to a slight alteration of the original color.
  • intransitive v. To lose luster; to become dull.
  • transitive v. To soil, or change the appearance of, especially by an alternation induced by the air, or by dust, or the like; to diminish, dull, or destroy the luster of; to sully.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To diminish or destroy the luster of; sully; dull: used of an alteration induced by the air, or by dust or dampness; also, in mineralogy, to change the natural color or luster of the surface of: said chiefly of the metallic minerals. See tarnish, n., 2.
  • To give a pale or dim cast to, as to gold or silver, without either polishing or burnishing it.
  • Figuratively, to diminish or destroy the purity of; cast a stain upon; sully: as, to tarnish reputation.
  • Synonyms To dull, deface.
  • To lose luster; become dim or dull: as, polished substances or gilding will tarnish in the course of time.
  • n. A spot; a blot; the condition of being dulled or stained.
  • n. In mineralogy, the change in luster or color of the surface of a mineral, particularly one of metallic luster: usually due to slight alteration, but also in some cases to the deposition of a very thin film of some foreign substance.
  • n. A coating.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. discoloration of metal surface caused by oxidation
  • v. make dirty or spotty, as by exposure to air; also used metaphorically


Middle English ternisshen, from Old French ternir, terniss-, to dull, from terne, dull, of Germanic origin.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle French terniss-, stem of ternir ("to make dull, deaden, tarnish"), from Old French ternir ("to make dim, make wan"), from Frankish *tarnjan (“to cover up, conceal, hide”), from Proto-Germanic *darnijanan (“to conceal”), from Proto-Indo-European *dher(ǝ)-, *dhrē- (“to hold, hold tight, support”). Cognate with Old High German *tarnjan, tarnen ("to hide, cover up, conceal") (Modern German tarnen), Old English dyrnan, diernan ("to keep secret, conceal, hide, restrain, repress"). More at dern, darn. (Wiktionary)


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