from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A water-soluble, yellowish-brown pigment.
  • noun A grayish to yellowish brown.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun In painting, a brown pigment extracted from the soot of wood.
  • Of the color of bister; blackish-brown.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Paint.) A dark brown pigment extracted from the soot of wood.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun Alternative spelling of bistre.

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

  • noun a water-soluble brownish-yellow pigment made by boiling wood soot


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

[French bistre.]



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  • or bistre

    February 23, 2007

  • "The bard's voice slows down and, after the unfathomable and contradictory flow of words, grows vindictive, blaming all the opposing currents that crisscross the hall, sound like light filtering through in equal measure, music of the heavens where each beam by its sound fools the ear or lulls it into sleep: various shafts of light play upon the exalted heads, upon the symbols of each guild in bright, primary colors, a dominant green, deep as inexpressible blue, a quiver running through the branches of a century-old cedar; red, of neither fire nor blood, the deep shade of habit, restful to the eye; white encircling waves, desert effluvia; black, to obscure the names on tombs by night at the unheralded hour of sanctification that weight upon shoulders, burnūs of lemony wool with a fringe curiously embroidered with bister bees, with glitter-tipped emeralds."

    Talismano by Abdelwaheb Meddeb, translated by Jane Kuntz, p 126 of the Dalkey Archive Press paperback

    September 25, 2011

  • It looks like the pigment is spelled with the French "-re" ending and, I am reliably informed, pronounced au francais by artists of the traditional bent; that is, to roughly rhyme with "Easter." At least this is true in the U.S. The Brits have a history of brutal naturalization of their imports so the word may have lost its panache crossing the channel. It is curious that with the anglicized "-er" ending all the usage examples describe an unhealthy condition of the skin about the eyes. Apparently bister is not a shade that flatters.

    November 18, 2014

  • Long ago you'd not have missed her.

    She stood out with diamond glister,

    But toil and tears

    Through long cruel years

    Have dulled her to a common bister.

    November 18, 2014