From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search


English Wikipedia has an article on:


A tawny owl (Strix aluco), so named for its tawny plumage (adjective sense).
The common bullfinch or Eurasian bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) is called a tawny (noun sense 2.1) in Somerset, England, U.K., due to the coloration of the female bird.
Tawny port is also known as tawny (noun sense 3).

Etymology 1


The adjective is derived from Middle English tauni, tawne (having a brownish-orange colour) [and other forms],[1] from Anglo-Norman taune, tawné, and Old French tané, tanné, tanney (of a tan colour), an adjective use of the past participle of taner (to turn hide into leather, tan), from tan (pulped oak bark used to tan leather, tanbark),[2][3][4] ultimately from Proto-Celtic *tannos (green oak);[5] further etymology uncertain, possibly from Proto-Indo-European *(s)dʰnwos, *(s)dʰonu (fir).

The -aw- spelling (also -au- in Middle English) seems to have been due to the pronunciation of Old French tané.[2]

The verb is derived from the adjective.[2]



tawny (comparative tawnier, superlative tawniest)

  1. Of a light brown to brownish orange colour.
    Synonyms: fulvid, fulvous, olivaster, subfuscous, swart, swartish, swarty; see also Thesaurus:brownish
    • 1577, Raphaell Holinshed, “King Henrie the Fifth”, in The Laste Volume of the Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande [], volume II, London: [] for Iohn Hunne, →OCLC, page 1077, column 2:
      And if any of your nation attempte once to ſtoppe me in my iorney now towards Calais, [] I in my defence ſhall colour and make red your tawny ground with the effuſion of chriſtian bloud: []
    • c. 1595–1596 (date written), William Shakespeare, A Midsommer Nights Dreame. [] (First Quarto), London: [] [Richard Bradock] for Thomas Fisher, [], published 1600, →OCLC, [Act III, scene i]:
      The VVooſell cock, ſo blacke of hevve, / VVith Orange tavvny bill, / The Throſtle, vvith his note ſo true, / The VVren, vvith little quill.
    • 1601, Ben Jonson, Poetaster or The Arraignment: [], London: [] [R. Bradock] for M[atthew] L[ownes] [], published 1602, →OCLC, Act III, scene iv:
      Come, vve muſt haue you turne Fiddler againe, ſlaue, 'get a Baſe Violin at your backe, and march in a Tavvnie Coate, vvith one ſleeue, to Gooſe-faire, and then you'll knovve vs; []
    • 1725, [Daniel Defoe], “Part I”, in A New Voyage Round the World, by a Course Never Sailed before. [], London: [] A[rthur] Bettesworth, []; and W. Mears, [], →OCLC, page 155:
      To the Queen he gave [] a ſmall Box full of large Needles; then he gave her ſome courſe brovvn Thread, and ſhovv'd her hovv to thred the Needle and ſovv any Thing together vvith the Thread; all vvhich ſhe admired exceedingly, and call'd her Tavvny Maids of Honour about her, that they might learn alſo.
    • 1791, Homer, W[illiam] Cowper, transl., “[The Iliad.] Book XI.”, in The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, Translated into Blank Verse, [], volume I, London: [] J[oseph] Johnson, [], →OCLC, page 289, lines 661–662:
      [T]he vvatch-dogs and aſſembled ſvvains / Have driv'n a tavvny lion from the ſtalls, []
    • 1842 December – 1844 July, Charles Dickens, “Will be Seen in the Long Run, if Not in the Short One, to Concern Mr. Pinch and Others, Nearly. []”, in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1844, →OCLC, pages 150–151:
      [T]he head waiter inquired with respectful solicitude whether that port, being a light and tawny wine, was suited to his taste, or whether he would wish to try a fruity port with greater body.
    • 1859, George Eliot [pseudonym; Mary Ann Evans], “In the Wood”, in Adam Bede [], volume I, Edinburgh, London: William Blackwood and Sons, →OCLC, book first, page 240:
      [P]erhaps they metamorphose themselves into a tawny squirrel that scampers away and mocks you from the topmost bough.
    • 1865, Henry D[avid] Thoreau, “The Shipwreck”, in [Sophia Thoreau and William Ellery Channing], editors, Cape Cod, Boston, Mass.: Ticknor and Fields, →OCLC, page 14:
      There were the tawny rocks, like lions couchant, defying the ocean, whose waves incessantly dashed against and scoured them with vast quantities of gravel.
    • 1906 August, Alfred Noyes, “The Highwayman”, in Poems, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., published October 1906, →OCLC, part 2, stanza I, pages 48–49:
      He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon; / And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon, / When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor, / A red-coat troop came marching— / Marching—marching— / King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.
    • 1908 October, Kenneth Grahame, “Wayfarers All”, in The Wind in the Willows, New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, →OCLC, page 196:
      They fell a-twittering among themselves once more, and this time their intoxicating babble was of violet seas, tawny sands, and lizard-haunted walls.
    • 1982 March, Frank Maudsley, Paul Reynolds, Ali Score, Mike Score (lyrics and music), “I Ran (So Far Away)”, in A Flock of Seagulls, performed by A Flock of Seagulls:
      I never thought I'd meet a girl like you / With auburn hair and tawny eyes
    • 2001, John Cannon, Anne Hargreaves, “Romano-British Rulers”, in The Kings & Queens of Britain, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 13:
      Dio Cassius, writing more than one hundred years after the event, described Boudicca as 'very tall, in appearance most terrifying … the glance of her eye most fierce, her voice harsh … a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips'.
    • 2019, Roger Tory Peterson, Michael DiGiorgio, Paul Lehman, Peter Pyle, Larry Rosche, “Owls and Nightjars”, in Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America (Peterson Field Guides), 2nd edition, Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, →ISBN, page 230:
      ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWK Chordeiles gundlachii [] Somewhat tawnier and smaller than Common Nighthawk, but readily distinguished from it only by call.
Alternative forms
Derived terms
See also



tawny (third-person singular simple present tawnies, present participle tawnying, simple past and past participle tawnied)

  1. (transitive) To cause (someone or something) to have a light brown to brownish orange colour; to tan, to tawn.
    • 1602, Nicholas Breton, The Mothers Blessing, London: [] T[homas] C[reede] for Iohn Smethick, [], →OCLC, signature [D4], recto:
      So many friends, their friendſhips daily breake, / That fevve are faithfull, if that fevve be any: / The Sunne ſo ſoone, the painted face vvill tavvny.
    • 1613, Thomas Heywood, The Brazen Age, [], London: [] Nicholas Okes, [], →OCLC, Act II, signature I2, verso:
      He [Vulcan] ſmels all ſmoake, and vvith his naſty ſvveate / Tavvnies my skinne, out on him vgly knaue, / Mars is my loue, and he my ſvveets ſhall haue.
    • 1632, Fra[ncis] Quarles, “On Gods Image”, in Divine Fancies: Digested into Epigrammes, Meditations, and Observations, London: [] Iohn Marriot, [], →OCLC, book III, page 148:
      Alas 'tis faded, ſoyl'd vvith the ſmoke of Luſt; / So ſvvarthy as if that glorious face of thine / VVere tavvnyed underneath the torrid Line: []
    • 2017, Nathan Englander, “2014, Limbo”, in Dinner at the Centre of the Earth, New York, N.Y.: Alfred A[braham] Knopf, →ISBN:
      The General stares into the sandstorm churned up by all that movement. Like a curtain draped across the world, tawnying the October sky.
  2. (intransitive) To become a light brown to brownish orange colour; to tan, to tawn.
    • 1825, chapter XI, in The Abduction; or, The Adventures of Major Sarney: A Story of the Times of Charles the Second. [], volume II, London: [] [William Clowes] for Charles Knight, [], →OCLC, page 249:
      The countenance alone bespoke the years and the cares of John M‘Whirter. The deep wrinkled brow—the cheek plaited, and tawnied in the sun and the frosts of the north— []
    • 1990, Meridel Le Sueur, “Gone Home”, in Elaine Hedges, editor, Ripening: Selected Work, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, →ISBN, page 215:
      In his drowse it all turned gleaming and mixing in him, his whole life, like the river gleaming taut between the trees. And everything that had ever happened to him tawnied over by the voluptuous light of the last fall, and his mouth watered for it all.
    • 2019, Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, “Wine Roads Less Traveled: Fortified and Dessert Wines”, in Wine for Dummies (For Dummies), 7th edition, Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, →ISBN, part 5 (Wine’s Exotic Face), page 318:
      [C]olheita is actually a tawny Port from a single vintage. In other words, it has aged (and softened and tawnied) in wood for many years.
Derived terms

Etymology 2


From Middle English tauni, tawne (brownish-orange colour; cloth of this colour; sweet beverage of this colour) [and other forms],[6] from Anglo-Norman tawné, and Old French tané, tanné, tanney (tan colour; cloth of this colour), from tané (verb): see further at etymology 1.[2][7][8]

Sense 2.1 (“Eurasian bullfinch”) is due to the brown colour of the female.[2]



tawny (countable and uncountable, plural tawnies or tawnys)

  1. A light brown to brownish orange colour.
    • 1601, C[aius] Plinius Secundus [i.e., Pliny the Elder], “[Book VIII.] Divers Kinds of Wooll and Clothes.”, in Philemon Holland, transl., The Historie of the World. Commonly Called, The Naturall Historie of C. Plinius Secundus. [], 1st tome, London: [] Adam Islip, →OCLC, page 227:
      Neere to Canuſia, the ſheepe be deepe yellovv or tavvnie; and about Tarentum, they are of a brovvne and duſkiſh colour.
    • 1641, George Sandys, “A Paraphrase upon the Song of Solomon. Canto I.”, in The Poetical Works of George Sandys. [], volume II, London: John Russell Smith, [], published 1872, →OCLC, page 340:
      Despise not my discolour'd look: / This tawny from the sun I took.
      The spelling has been modernized.
    • 1705, “Part I. Of Silk Dying.”, in [anonymous], transl., The Whole Art of Dying. [], London: [] William Pearson, and sold by J[ohn] Nutt, [], →OCLC, page 14:
      From the follovving Dye are Compoſed the beſt Tavvnies, Grey and Crimſon Goat Colours. [] The Silk muſt be put in vvhen the Suds are cold, for the colder the Suds, the blevver the Violet Colour, vvhich muſt alvvays be blevver than the Tavvnies.
    • 1720, Tho[mas] Page, Junior, “The Materials of Painting, Describing the Chief Colours to be Used; []”, in The Art of Painting in Its Rudiment, Progress, and Perfection: [], Norwich, Norfolk: [] , [], →OCLC, pages 48–49:
      And thus by varying the Colours you ſhall produce all ſorts of mixtures: So black and vvhite variouſly mixed make a vaſt Company of deep and light Greys, Bleus and Yellovvs, many Greens; Red and Yellovv Orange Tavvnies, [] the more the Red the deeper the Orange Tavvnies, and ſo forth; and thus muſt they in your VVork be ſhaded and heightened vvith Colours of their ovvn Affinity: []
    • 1847 January – 1848 July, William Makepeace Thackeray, “In which Mr. Osborne Takes Down the Family Bible”, in Vanity Fair [], London: Bradbury and Evans [], published 1848, →OCLC, page 200:
      'Gad, if Miss S. will have me, I'm her man. I ain't particular about a shade or so of tawny.
    1. (specifically, heraldry) Synonym of tenné (a rarely-used tincture of orange or bright brown)
      Hyponym: dragon's head
      • 1597, Gerard Leigh [i.e., Gerard Legh], The Accedence of Armorie, London: [] Henrie Ballard [], →OCLC, folio 116, verso:
        [T]he Herehaught [herald] muſt have a ſinguler reſpect to the face of him that ſhould haue the Armes, vvhere he ſhal vvel perceiue in vvhat ſeaſõ of the yere, his ovvn complexion vvill ſerue him to do beſt ſeruice in: [] If in Somer, either a Hound or Salamandra, or ſome part of them, of the colour Bruske, vvhich is betvveene Geules and tavvney.
      • 1632, John Guillim, “Sect[ion] I. Chap[ter] III.”, in A Display of Heraldrie: [], 2nd edition, London: [] Richard Badger for Ralph Mab, →OCLC, page 21:
        Tavvny (ſaith Leigh [i.e., Gerard Legh]) is a Colour of vvorſhip, and of ſome Heralds it is called Bruske, and is moſt commonly borne of French Gentlemen, but very fevv doe beare it in England. In Blazon it is knovvne by the name of Tenne. It is (ſaith he) the ſureſt colour that is (of ſo bright a hevv being compounded) for it is made of tvvo bright Colours, vvhich are Red and Yellovv: []
      • 1765, Mark Anthony Porny [pseudonym; Antoine Pyron du Martre], “Of the Essential and Integral Parts of Arms. Article II. Of the Tinctures.”, in The Elements of Heraldry, [], London: [] J[ohn] Newbery, [], →OCLC, section I (Of Colours), page 17:
        Tenne, vvhich is the tavvny or Orange colour, is marked by diagonal lines dravvn from the Siniſter to the Dexter ſide of the Shield, traverſed by perpendicular lines from the Chief; []
        The 5th edition, page 22, states “from the dexter to the ſinister ſide”.
      • 1859 April, J[ames] R[obinson] Planché, “Appendix”, in The Pursuivant of Arms; or, Heraldry Founded upon Facts. [], new edition, London: Robert Hardwicke, [], →OCLC, page 209:
        Some heraldic writers extend the number of tinctures to seven, by the addition of sanguine or murrey, dark blood or mulberry-colour, and tenné, tawny, or orange-colour; while others who admit them into the catalogue declare them, at the same time, to be stainant, or disgraceful; but, as I have stated in my notice of Abatements (p. 171), it is very improbable any one would bear arms so degraded; and the strongest proof that no such opinion with respect to these two colours existed in the days of chivalry is, that the livery colours of the house of York were murrey and blue, and that tawny was apparently much affected by the retainers of the nobility and Church dignitaries.
  2. Something of a light brown or brownish orange colour (particularly if it has the word tawny in its name).
    • 1629, John Parkinson, “Caryophyllus hortensus. Carnations and Gilloflowers.”, in Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris. [], London: [] Hvmfrey Lownes and Robert Yovng [], →OCLC, pages 311–312:
      Iohn VVittie his great tavvny Gilloflovver is for forme of grovving, in leafe and flovver altogether like vnto the ordinary tavvny, the flovver onely, becauſe it is the faireſt and greateſt that any other hath nourſed vp, maketh the difference, as alſo that it is of a faire deepe ſcarlet colour. There are alſo diuers other Tavvnies, either lighter or ſadder, either leſſe or more double, that they cannot be numbered, and all riſing (as I ſaid before) from ſovving the ſeede of ſome of them: []
    • 1895, Aubyn Trevor-Battye, “March. Our Birds of Prey.”, in Oswald Crawfurd, editor, A Year of Sport and Natural History: Shooting, Hunting, Coursing, Falconry and Fishing [], London: Chapman and Hall, →OCLC, section I (The Owls), page 67:
      The Tawny Owl may easily be induced, under favourable conditions, to take up its quarters near the houses of men. The writer is familiar with a pair of Tawnies which have nested for many years in one of several covered-in boxes fitted up in the trees that overhang the shrubberies in the grounds. [] There are other Tawnies in the woods and parks about, but this pair are the lords of their own district, for like all birds of prey they require a large area for their hunt for food.
    1. (Somerset) The common bullfinch or Eurasian bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula).
      • [1847, James Orchard Halliwell, “TAWNY”, in A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs, from the Fourteenth Century. [], volumes II (J–Z), London: John Russell Smith, [], →OCLC, page 854, column 1:
        TAWNY. A bullfinch. Somerset.]
  3. (alcoholic beverages) In full tawny port: a sweet, fortified port wine which is blended and matured in wooden casks.
    • 2006, Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, “Wine Roads Less Traveled: Fortified and Dessert Wines”, in Wine for Dummies (For Dummies), 4th edition, Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, →ISBN, part V (Wine’s Exotic Face), page 297:
      Tawny is the most versatile Port style. The best tawnies are good-quality wines that have faded to a pale garnet or brownish red color during long wood aging. [] We consider 10- and 20-year-old tawnies the best buys; the older ones aren't always worth the extra bucks.
    • 2007, Lettie Teague, “Portugal”, in Educating Peter: How I Taught a Famous Movie Critic the Difference between Cabernet and Merlot or How Anyone Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert, New York, N.Y., London: Scribner, →ISBN, page 110:
      A ten-year-old tawny is a good place to start with a tawny port novice, who might otherwise be put off by the oxidized flavors (i.e., more wood and earth notes than fruit) that come with a very old tawny.
  4. (obsolete)
    1. A fabric of a light brown to brownish orange colour.
      • 1553, “The Seconde Chapitre. An Acte for the True Making of Woullen Clothes.”, in Anno III. & IIII. Edwardi Sexti. Actes Made in the Session of This Present Parlament, Holden vpon Prorogation at Westminster, the. IIII Daie of Nouembre, in the Third Yere of the Reigne of Our Most Dread Souuereine Lord Edward the. VI [], London: [] Rychard Grafton, printer to the Kinges Maiestie, →OCLC, folio iiij, recto:
        [N]o perſone, or perſones, occupiyng the ſeate of diẽg, ſhal die, or altre into colours, or cauſe to be died, or altred into colours, any wollen clothes, as broune blewes, pieukes, tawnies, or violettes, except the ſame wollẽ clothes be perfeictly boiled, greined or madered vpon the woade, & ſhot with good, and ſufficient corke, or orchal after a due, ſubſtancial, & ſufficient maner of workemanſhip, according to thauncient workmanſhip in time paſt vſed, vpõ peine for euery defalt to forfeite .xx. s̃.
      • 1566 August 18 (Gregorian calendar), Arthur Edwards, “A Letter of M. Arthur Edwards, Written the 8. of August 1566. from the Towne of Shamakie in Media, to the Right Worshipfull the Gouernours, Consuls, Assistants, and Generalitie of the Companie of Rusia, &c. Shewing His Accesse vnto the Emperour of Persia, []”, in Richard Hakluyt, The Principall Navigations, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation, [], London: [] George Bishop and Ralph Newberie, deputies to Christopher Barker, [], published 1589, →OCLC, page 380:
        You ſhall doe well to ſend ſuch ſorts [of clothes] as be liuely to the ſight, and ſome blackes for womens garments, with ſome Orenge colours and tawneis.
    2. (probably derogatory) A person with skin of a brown colour.
  5. Tawny frogmouth.
  6. Tawny owl.
Derived terms
  • tawnies (clothes made of tawny-coloured fabric) (obsolete)

See also



  1. ^ taunī, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 tawny, adj. and n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022.
  3. ^ tawny, adj.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  4. ^ tawny, adj.”, in Dictionary.com Unabridged, Dictionary.com, LLC, 1995–present, reproduced from Stuart Berg Flexner, editor in chief, Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: Random House, 1993, →ISBN.
  5. ^ Matasović, Ranko (2009) “*tanno-”, in Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic (Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series; 9), Leiden: Brill, →ISBN, page 369
  6. ^ taunī, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  7. ^ tawny, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  8. ^ tawny, n.”, in Dictionary.com Unabridged, Dictionary.com, LLC, 1995–present, reproduced from Stuart Berg Flexner, editor in chief, Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: Random House, 1993, →ISBN.

Further reading