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bas·​i·​lisk ˈba-sə-ˌlisk How to pronounce basilisk (audio)
: a legendary reptile with fatal breath and glance
: any of several crested tropical American lizards (genus Basiliscus of the family Iguanidae) related to the iguanas and noted for their ability to run on their hind legs


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: suggesting a basilisk : baleful, spellbinding
the eyes … with all their blaze of basilisk horrorBram Stoker

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In Hellenic and Roman legend, a basilisk (also called a cockatrice) was a serpent-like creature capable of destroying other creatures by way of its deadly stare. The modern basilisk is a lizard that belongs to the family Iguanidae and supposedly resembles this fabled monster; it has a large, inflatable crest atop its head and is sometimes called a "Jesus Christ lizard" for its ability to run quickly across the surface of water. The use of "basilisk" as an adjective occurs most frequently in phrases such as "basilisk stare"; recalling the notorious gaze of the legendary basilisk, it describes the deep and piercing look of someone who is frightening or seductive.

Examples of basilisk in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Berry’s public image showcased a winning smile and a winking eye, whereas most reports of backstage meetings tended to emphasize a forbidding scowl and basilisk stare. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 4 May 2023 The common basilisk lizard is known as the Jesus Christ lizard for its astounding ability to literally run on water. Discover Magazine, 10 Aug. 2010 Anti-lovebirds can choose to have the mealworms or crickets fed to a tawny frogmouth, spotted turtle, basilisk, cotton-top tamarin or black-tufted marmoset, wrote The Salisbury Daily Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Saleen Martin, USA TODAY, 8 Feb. 2023 Animals like pond-skaters and the basilisk lizard can walk on water by relying on surface tension—the tendency of the surface of water to resist an external force. Ed Yong, Discover Magazine, 3 Dec. 2012 The blood of a basilisk, a black tick taken from the left ear of a cat, a stone bitten by a mad dog, the right eye of a live serpent—such are some of the charms or medicines. Robert Shackleton, Harper’s Magazine , 25 May 2022 The Jesus lizard, more scientifically known as a basilisk, was aptly named thanks to its ability to run on the surface of water. Daisy Hernandez, Popular Mechanics, 26 Jan. 2022 Hermione, with support from Ron, destroys one of the last remaining Horcruxes with a basilisk fang, which causes a magical wave of water to come crashing towards them. Nick Romano,, 1 Jan. 2022 The catoblepas and, more famously, the basilisk, both described by Pliny the Elder, could kill with the single glance. Robert Martone, Scientific American, 29 Dec. 2020 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'basilisk.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English, borrowed from Latin basiliscus "kind of snake," borrowed from Greek basilískos "minor prince, kind of snake (presumably possessing a crown-like crest)," from basil-, base of basileús "king, prince" (of pre-Greek substratal origin) + -iskos, diminutive suffix

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of basilisk was in the 13th century


Dictionary Entries Near basilisk

Cite this Entry

“Basilisk.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

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