tin·sel | \ˈtin(t)-səl also ˈtin-zəl \

Definition of tinsel 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1 : threads, strips, or sheets of metal, paper, or plastic used to produce a glittering and sparkling appearance in fabrics, yarns, or decorations

2 : something superficially attractive or glamorous but of little real worth disfigured by no gaudy tinsel of rhetoric or declamation— Thomas Jefferson



Definition of tinsel (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : made of or covered with tinsel

2a : cheaply gaudy : tawdry

b : specious, superficial tinsel promises


tinseled or tinselled; tinseling or tinselling\ˈtin(t)-s(ə-)liŋ also ˈtin-zə-liŋ \

Definition of tinsel (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1 : to interweave, overlay, or adorn with or as if with tinsel

2 : to impart a specious brightness to

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for tinsel

Synonyms: Noun

cotton candy

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of tinsel in a Sentence


I like to decorate the Christmas tree with tinsel. He's not attracted to the tinsel and glitter of Hollywood.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The entire villa was covered in gold tinsel with gold balloons, lights, silverware, plates, candles, et cetera. Alexandra Macon, Vogue, "Inside a Greenery-Filled Hawaiian Wedding—Where the Bridesmaids Wore Power Suits," 13 July 2018 Before holographic hair was a thing, there was hair tinsel. Devon Abelman, Allure, "K-Pop Star Heize Shows Off Bleach-Free Alternative to Holographic Highlights," 26 June 2018 In one photo of the celebration, Penelope is all smiles while wearing a pink hat with a gold tinsel trim. Jen Juneau, PEOPLE.com, "Kim Kardashian West Wishes Niece Penelope a Happy Birthday with Hilarious Side-Eye Photo," 9 July 2018 About six years ago, hair tinsel rose to popularity. Devon Abelman, Allure, "K-Pop Star Heize Shows Off Bleach-Free Alternative to Holographic Highlights," 26 June 2018 The light reflected off of the soloist’s silver dress -- and the tinsel in her hair. Tamar Herman, Billboard, "5 Highlights From the First Night of KCON 2018 NY," 25 June 2018 There is the 3-foot-high, peacock-feather gear for battling flies, inlaid with diamonds and set with bands of gold tinsel, presented to the prince on his official entry into Jaipur. J.s. Marcus, WSJ, "Souvenirs of a Prince’s Passage to India," 18 May 2018 Richard Avedon lensed her five Vogue covers, in all of which the model is heavily accessorized with big jewelry and, in one case, a silver tinsel wig. Vogue, "Catching Up With Renée Toft Simonsen, “Face of the ’80s” Modeling Contest Winner and 5-Time Vogue Cover Girl," 13 Apr. 2018 Behind her, sprays of cheap tinsel are pinned to the wall; before her, a silver spoon sits on a table like an offering. Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker, "Deana Lawson’s Kingdom of Restored Glory," 8 Jan. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Connor’s new prints, on the other hand, made by the industrial dye-sublimation process on aluminum, are but tinseled imitations of her own extraordinary originals. Charles Desmarais, San Francisco Chronicle, "Must-see Bay Area photography exhibitions in March," 8 Mar. 2018 And while my beard has tinseled, the intervening years haven’t exactly been kind to Rome either. Jason Horowitz, New York Times, "My Rome: Still a Classic Beauty," 1 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tinsel.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of tinsel


1538, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1575, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for tinsel


Middle English tyneseyle cloth interwoven with metallic thread, probably from Anglo-French tencelé, past participle of tenceler, estenceler to sparkle — more at stencil

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about tinsel

Statistics for tinsel

Last Updated

13 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tinsel

The first known use of tinsel was in 1538

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tinsel



English Language Learners Definition of tinsel

: thin strips of shiny metal or paper that are used as decoration

: something that seems attractive or appealing but is of little worth


tin·sel | \ˈtin-səl \

Kids Definition of tinsel

1 : a thread or strip of metal or plastic used for decoration

2 : something that seems attractive but is of little worth

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on tinsel

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tinsel

Spanish Central: Translation of tinsel

Nglish: Translation of tinsel for Spanish Speakers

Comments on tinsel

What made you want to look up tinsel? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a state of commotion or excitement

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!