[usually before noun] (formal) of excellent quality He has done sterling work on the finance committee. My old watch has given me 15 years of sterling service. She has sterling qualities. Thanks to all your sterling efforts, we’ve raised over £12 000. Word Origin Middle English: probably from steorra ‘star’ + -ling (because some early Norman coins bore a small star). Until recently one popular theory was that the coin was originally made by Easterling moneyers (from the “eastern” Hanse towns), but the stressed first syllable would not have been dropped.