- A thin covering of wood or other material attached to a piece of furniture to improve its appearance
- A layer of material meant to be decorative or to create a specific appearance
- A disingenuous or deceptive front
- To layer an object with a thin plate of wood
- To adopt a deceptive front or cover with specious charm
Have you ever stopped to consider just how much control we have over the ways others see us? The idealists and innocents among us may show themselves with sheer honesty, but anyone can put on a guise that conceals their true identity. You can put on a monster-mask, of course, but such a veneer could just as likely be a certain way of speaking or acting, even something as subtle as a dissembling facial expression! Don't get paranoid, but be aware that one's outer appearance can easily belie what lies inside.
Veneer has meanings which make it useful in both literal and figurative situations. The word was initially used to describe a slim layer of high-quality wood that could be attached to the surface of a piece of furniture. This was done primarily as a means of deception, a way of making mediocre furniture look more appealing. Have a cheap set of drawers you want to sell or pass off as fashionable? Just nail a thin piece of impressive oak to it and, suddenly, you have yourself a lovely centerpiece! Nowadays, veneers are commonly made of many different types of materials, including plastic that's been dyed to look like wood (proving that you can always go cheaper). Similarly, veneer can also describe an ornamental façade around the face of a building. These veneers are usually made of hardier materials like stone or marble, and rather than being used to portray a specious front of grandeur, they most often simply serve as decoration.
Figuratively, veneer has a fascinating usage that describes a misleading appearance or display. A veneer is a covering of one's true feelings, intentions, or identity, an evasion meant to distract others and make something appear as it is not. Such a disguise could be as simple as a child's Halloween costume or as insidious as an advertising campaign that directs the consumer's attentions away from the harmful nature of a product. This figurative application makes sense: considering veneer's literal definition as a falsely attractive covering of wood, its use to describe a disingenuous front is really just an expansion of its initial meaning. Just as you can make an end-table look more sophisticated than it really is, you can veneer yourself (the word works as a verb, too) with a thin, specious layer to hide your true essence.
Example: Aside from its marvelous marble veneer, the old courthouse looked distinctly shabby.
Example: The cabinet's veneer had chipped away in places, revealing a rather ugly surface underneath.
Example: Beneath the veneer of Chris' dapper dress and sophisticated vocabulary lay a man in dire financial straits.
Before veneer's first appearance in English as a noun in the early 1700s, the word's ancestors took on several forms that spanned French and German. The word's earliest origins are thought to stem from a Germanic language, although the specifics are unknown. We can, however, definitively identify the Middle French fornir, which meant "to supply" or "to equip with amenities." From here the word would trip back to German, arising as furnieren ("to cover with a layer of material" - literally, "to veneer"). The word was later modified into veneer, with the verb form arising a couple of decades later (veneer wasn't used figuratively until the late 19th century).
Veneerer: This noun describes someone who applies a deceptive layer (either figuratively or literally) to himself or to an object.
Example: The veneerer was confident that no one would see through her complex façade.
Veneers: The present tense form of veneer is used when a singular, third-person subject applies a deceptive covering.
Example: The rapper veneers his teeth with a radiant layer of bling.
Veneering: This form is used to describe when someone is currently employing a misleading appearance, or as a noun to describe the condition or act of doing such a thing.
Example: Unfortunately, Chris' meticulous veneering paid off: thinking he was well-to-do, none of his acquaintances ever offered to pick up the check.
Veneered: This is the preterit form of the verb veneer.
Example: Hoping to make it seem as though he had expensive tastes, Chris veneered an old dresser of his with a surface that looked remarkably like antique mahogany.
From Alan Moore's V for Vendetta:
In view humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the "vox populi" now vacant, vanished.
Here, veneer is used in a purposefully confusing alliteration to suggest that the strange, vigilante nature of the speaker ("V") is about more than just appearances.
- Veneer's not what it appears
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of veneer. Did you use veneer in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.