Definition of paraffin in English:



  • 1mass noun A flammable, whitish, translucent, waxy solid consisting of a mixture of saturated hydrocarbons, obtained by distillation from petroleum or shale and used in candles, cosmetics, polishes, and sealing and waterproofing compounds.

    • ‘Most candles contain paraffin, a petroleum-based wax that produces black soot when burned.’
    • ‘This engine, like other hybrids, uses nitrous oxide as liquid oxidizer, but uses paraffin rather than rubber as the engine's solid fuel.’
    • ‘For light microscopy, several media such as paraffin, polyethylene glycol and resin, have been used to embed plant tissues.’
    • ‘Tissue dehydration was accomplished by submerging samples in a series of ethanol: tertiary butyl alcohol, and embedding them in small blocks of solid paraffin.’
    1. 1.1 A colourless, flammable, oily liquid similarly obtained and used as fuel, especially kerosene.
      • ‘The four-cylinder engine could develop 30 h.p. using paraffin as fuel, no doubt more on petrol, then not as easily available.’
      • ‘As renewable sources of fuel, such as wood become scarce it is important for any society to make the transition to mass-produced fuels such as coal or paraffin, and then later shift to electricity or gas.’
      • ‘Most villagers use woodfire to cook meals, because they cannot afford the alternatives, electric stoves and paraffin.’
      • ‘Many rural people, and those living in a semi-urban situation, had to find their fuel from coal, paraffin, and especially timber.’
      • ‘He also made regular trips to Kilbeg Creamery for paraffin for his heater.’
    2. 1.2Chemistry
      old-fashioned term for alkane
      • ‘Like pentane, paraffins are alkanes - hydrocarbon molecules that have as many hydrogen atoms as the molecule's carbon backbone can accommodate.’
      • ‘Because kerosene belongs to the family of hydrocarbons called alkanes or paraffins, it is sometimes referred to as paraffin oil, in addition to the nicknames coal oil, lamp oil, and illuminating oil.’


Mid 19th century: from German, from Latin parum ‘little’ + affinis ‘related’ (from its low reactivity).