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Definition tan

Etymology 1

Borrowed from French tan (“tanbark”), from Gaulish tanno- (“green oak”) – compare Breton tann (“red oak”), Old Cornish tannen –, from Proto-Celtic *tannos (“green oak”), of uncertain origin, but perhaps from Proto-Indo-European *(s)dʰonu (“fir”). Per this hypothesis, related to Hittite [script needed] (tanau, “fir”), Latin femur, genitive feminis (“thigh”), German Tann (“woods”), Tanne (“fir”), Albanian thanë (“cranberry bush”), Ancient Greek θάμνος (thámnos, “thicket”), Avestan ????????‎ (θanuuarə), Sanskrit धनु (dhánu).


tan (plural tans)

  1. A yellowish-brown colour.
  2. A darkening of the skin resulting from exposure to sunlight or similar light sources.
  3. The bark of an oak or other tree from which tannic acid is obtained.

tan (comparative tanner, superlative tannest)

  1. Of a yellowish-brown.
  2. Having dark skin as a result of exposure to the sun.

Etymology 2

As a verb, from Middle English tannen, from late Old English tannian (“to tan a hide”), from Latin tannare.


tan (third-person singular simple present tans, present participle tanning, simple past and past participle tanned)

  1. (transitive, intransitive) To change to a tan colour due to exposure to the sun.
  2. (transitive) To change an animal hide into leather by soaking it in tannic acid. To work as a tanner.
  3. (transitive, informal) To spank or beat.

Etymology 3

From a Brythonic language; influenced in form by yan (“one”) in the same series.



  1. (dialectal, rare) The second cardinal number two, formerly used in Celtic areas, especially Cumbria and parts of Yorkshire, for counting sheep, and stitches in knitting.

Etymology 4

Borrowed from Armenian թան (tʿan).



  1. An Armenian drink made of yoghurt and water similar to airan and doogh

Etymology 5

From the Cantonese pronunciation of


tan (usually uncountable, plural tans)

  1. Synonym of picul, particularly in Cantonese contexts.

Etymology 6

From Old English tān (“twig, switch”), from Proto-Germanic *tainaz (“rod, twig, straw, lot”).


tan (plural tans)

  1. (dialectal) A twig or small switch.

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