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[par-uh-fin] /ˈpær ə fɪn/
a white or colorless, tasteless, odorless, water-insoluble, solid substance not easily acted upon by reagents, consisting of a mixture of hydrocarbons chiefly of the alkane series, obtained from crude petroleum: used in candles, for forming preservative coatings and seals, for waterproofing paper, etc.
  1. any member of the alkane series.
  2. one of the higher members of the alkane series, solid at ordinary temperatures, having a boiling point above 300°C, which largely constitutes the commercial form of this substance.
Also called paraffin oil. British, kerosene.
verb (used with object)
to cover or impregnate with paraffin.
Origin of paraffin
1830-40; < German < Latin par(um) barely + aff(īnis) connected + -in2; so called from its slight affinity for other substances; see affinity Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for paraffin oil
Historical Examples
  • Occasionally it carried on a conversation with its defenders, bringing with it a strong perfume of paraffin oil as it approached.

    Just William Richmal Crompton
  • There was an odor of rancid butter, spilled wine, and paraffin oil.

    Serge Panine, Complete Georges Ohnet
  • Then paraffin oil was squirted over everything, and the light applied.

    Through Shot and Flame J. D. Kestell.
  • The origin of the inventor of paraffin oil was comparatively obscure.

    Western Worthies J. Stephen Jeans
  • "I've already apologised for the paraffin oil," said Meldon.

    The Simpkins Plot George A. Birmingham
  • I suppose that the Condy's Fluid and the paraffin oil were—?

    The Simpkins Plot George A. Birmingham
  • Also it is distilled in Scotland from oil shale, from which paraffin oil and wax and similar substances are produced.

    The Mastery of the Air William J. Claxton
  • Lard oil or a mixture of equal parts of lard oil and paraffin oil are often used for this purpose.

    Turning and Boring Franklin D. Jones
  • paraffin oil or any liquid dielectric of constant inductivity may replace the air.

  • Being half full of paraffin oil it instantly set fire to the gauze window-curtains.

    My Doggie and I R.M. Ballantyne
British Dictionary definitions for paraffin oil


Also called paraffin oil, (esp US and Canadian) kerosene. a liquid mixture consisting mainly of alkane hydrocarbons with boiling points in the range 150°–300°C, used as an aircraft fuel, in domestic heaters, and as a solvent
another name for alkane
verb (transitive)
to treat with paraffin or paraffin wax
Word Origin
C19: from German, from Latin parum too little + affinis adjacent; so called from its chemical inertia
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for paraffin oil



1838, from German Paraffin, coined c.1830 by German chemist Karl von Reichenbach (1788-1869), who first obtained it as a waxy substance from wood tar, irregularly from Latin parum "not very, too little," probably related to parvus "little, small" (see parvi-) + affinis "associated with" (see affinity).

So called because paraffin is chemically not closely related to other substances. The liquid form (originally parafin oil) Reichenbach called eupion, but this was the standard meaning of paraffin in English by 1860.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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paraffin oil in Science
  1. A waxy, white or colorless solid mixture of hydrocarbons made from petroleum and used to make candles, wax paper, lubricants, and waterproof coatings. Also called paraffin wax.

  2. See alkane.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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