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From Middle French estincelle (“spark”) (compare French étincelle), from Latin scintilla; compare scintillate, stencil.



tinsel (usually uncountable, plural tinsels)

  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.
    • 1675, John Dryden, Aureng-zebe
      Who can discern the tinsel from the gold?
    • 1963, Margery Allingham, “Foreword”, in The China Governess[1]:
      He stood transfixed before the unaccustomed view of London at night time, a vast panorama which reminded him […] of some wood engravings far off and magical, in a printshop in his childhood. They dated from the previous century and were coarsely printed on tinted paper, with tinsel outlining the design.
  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.


No. 1 refers to tinsel as a 'gauzelike cloth...' metalic woven into it. This material is called "Angel Hair,' & is rarely sold, because of slivers of glass that produce the metalic effect. Tinsel is also called 'icecicles,'that are hung as such, on individual tree limbs. Neither does the term refer to 'garlands,'that are long & are hung losely, surrounding the tree.


tinsel (comparative more tinsel, superlative most tinsel)

  1. Glittering, later especially superficially so; gaudy, showy.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, III.1:
      Her garments all were wrought of beaten gold, / And all her steed with tinsell trappings shone [...].


tinsel (third-person singular simple present tinsels, present participle (UK) tinselling or (US) tinseling, simple past and past participle (UK) tinselled or (US) tinseled)

  1. (transitive) To adorn with tinsel; to deck out with cheap but showy ornaments; to make gaudy.
  2. (figuratively, transitive) To give a false sparkle to (something).

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