In the USA, varnish refers to an oil-based solvent finish with a variety of dissolved resins.
The term lacquer comes from the lac insect (Laccifer lacca) whose secretion, called lac, are a polymer that is soluble in alcohol. Shellac is a brittle or flaky secretion of the lac insect. (In the UK however, the term lacquer has a different meaning; if you spray it, it's lacquer - if you brush it, it's varnish!) In America today the word lacquer refers to nitrocellulose dissolved in alcohol or a different solvent.
Shelac is a different 'lac'; a brittle or flaky secretion of a different lac insect, Coccus lacca.
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