AskDefine | Define tinsel

Dictionary Definition



1 a showy decoration that is basically valueless; "all the tinsel of self-promotion"
2 a thread with glittering metal foil attached


1 impart a cheap brightness to; "his tinseled image of Hollywood"
2 adorn with tinsel; "snow flakes tinseled the trees"
3 interweave with tinsel; "tinseled velvet" [also: tinselling, tinselled]

User Contributed Dictionary



étincelle (“spark”), from estincelle, from scintilla; compare scintillate, stencil



  1. A shining material used for ornamental purposes; especially, a very thin, gauzelike cloth with much gold or silver woven into it; also, very thin metal overlaid with a thin coating of gold or silver, brass foil, or the like.
    • John Dryden:
      Who can discern the tinsel from the gold?
  2. Very thin strips of a glittering, metallic material used as a decoration, and traditionally, draped at Christmas time over streamers, paper chains and the branches of Christmas trees.
  3. Anything shining and gaudy; something superficially shining and showy, or having a false luster, and more gay than valuable.
    • William Cowper:
      O happy peasant! O unhappy bard! His the mere tinsel, hers the rich reward.


  1. Showy to excess; gaudy; specious; superficial.


  1. To adorn with tinsel; to deck out with cheap but showy ornaments; to make gaudy.
  2. In the context of "metaphorical|transitive": To give something a false sparkle.

See also


  • Webster 1913

Extensive Definition

Tinsel was originally a metallic garland for Christmas decoration. Nowadays it is typically made of plastic, and used particularly to decorate Christmas trees. In addition it can be hung from walls or ceilings and is normally flexible enough to be wrapped around almost anything i.e. statues or lamposts. It was invented in Nuernberg, Germany in 1610, and was originally made of shredded silver.
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word is from the Old French word "estincele", meaning sparkle.
Tinsel used to include lead, which caused the strands to hang better from the branches. This was eventually removed due to safety concerns.
Tinsel also can harm or kill pets, so it should be used cautiously in homes with pets.


tinsel in German: Lametta
tinsel in Russian: Мишура

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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