General English

Cars & Driving

  • noun a hard, glossy transparent coating
  • noun a product of oil oxidation which is deposited on pistons and piston rings at high temperatures


  • A clear, colorless substance used chiefly on wood to provide a hard, glossy, protective film. Varnish is manufactured from resinous products dissolved in oil, alcohol, or a number of volatile liquids.

Information & Library Science

  • noun a shiny coating applied to book covers or jackets to make them more durable, similar in appearance to lamination, but cheaper
  • verb to coat a book cover with varnish

Origin & History of “varnish”

Varnish may come ultimately from Berenice (Greek Berenī́kē), the name of a city in Cyrenaica, Libya, which was credited with the first use of varnishes. Berenī́kē became a generic term in medieval Greek, and is thought to lie behind medieval Latin veronix ‘resin used in varnishes’, which passed into English via Old French vernis.