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[tin-suh l] /ˈtɪn səl/
a glittering metallic substance, as copper or brass, in thin sheets, used in pieces, strips, threads, etc., to produce a sparkling effect cheaply.
a metallic yarn, usually wrapped around a core yarn of silk, rayon, or cotton, for weaving brocade or lamé.
anything showy or attractive with little or no real worth; showy pretense:
The actress was tired of the fantasy and tinsel of her life.
Obsolete. a fabric, formerly in use, of silk or wool interwoven with threads of gold, silver, or, later, copper.
consisting of or containing tinsel.
showy; gaudy; tawdry.
verb (used with object), tinseled, tinseling or (especially British) tinselled, tinselling.
to adorn with tinsel.
to adorn with anything glittering.
to make showy or gaudy.
Origin of tinsel
1495-1505; by aphesis < Middle French estincelle (Old French estincele) a spark, flash < Vulgar Latin *stincilla, metathetic variant of Latin scintilla scintilla; first used attributively in phrases tinsel satin, tinsel cloth
Related forms
tinsellike, adjective
overtinsel, verb (used with object), overtinseled, overtinseling or (especially British) overtinselled, overtinselling.
untinseled, adjective
untinselled, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for tinsel
  • Nothing obviously seasonal about it, so you won't get tired of it by the time you take down the tinsel.
  • But they caution that a tree with tinsel or fake snow spray cannot be recycled.
  • Smiling and cruel, they pitilessly searched and appraised all her poor artless finery of spangles and tinsel.
  • The tin, tinsel, and ribbon packaging added an unusual elegance to a holiday table.
  • Please be sure trees are free of all ornaments and tinsel.
  • Only trees that are undecorated and free of lights, ornaments and tinsel will be recycled into mulch.
  • To recycle, cut trees in half and remove all tinsel, ornaments and stands.
  • Trees that are not completely clean and free of tinsel, ornaments and/or bows will not be picked up.
  • Remember to remove all tinsel, lights and decorations.
  • All decorations, including tinsel, must be removed from trees because the trees are recyclable and will be chipped.
British Dictionary definitions for tinsel


a decoration consisting of a piece of string with thin strips of metal foil attached along its length
a yarn or fabric interwoven with strands of glittering thread
anything cheap, showy, and gaudy
verb (transitive) -sels, -selling, -selled (US) -sels, -seling, -seled
to decorate with or as if with tinsel: snow tinsels the trees
to give a gaudy appearance to
made of or decorated with tinsel
showily but cheaply attractive; gaudy
Derived Forms
tinsel-like, adjective
tinselly, adjective
Word Origin
C16: from Old French estincele a spark, from Latin scintilla; compare stencil
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 tinsel

mid-15c., "a kind of cloth made with interwoven gold or silver thread," from Middle French estincelle "spark, spangle" (see stencil). Meaning "very thin sheets or strips of shiny metal" is recorded from 1590s. Figurative sense of "anything showy with little real worth" is from 1650s, suggested from at least 1590s. First recorded use of Tinseltown for "Hollywood" is from 1972.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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