noun, often attributive
cha·me·leon | \kə-ˈmēl-yən \

Definition of chameleon 

1 : any of a family (Chamaeleontidae) of chiefly arboreal (see arboreal sense 2) Old World lizards with prehensile (see prehensile sense 1) tail, independently movable eyeballs, and unusual ability to change the color of the skin

2a : a person who often changes his or her beliefs or behavior in order to please others or to succeed She's a political chameleon.

b : one that is subject to quick or frequent change especially in appearance Tourmaline is the chameleon of the gem kingdom because it can assume virtually any color.

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from chameleon

chameleonic \-ˌmē-lē-ˈä-nik \ adjective
chameleonlike \-ˌlīk \ adjective

Did You Know?

The chameleon is probably best known for the ability to change colors - but when the ancients named this lizard, they apparently had other qualities in mind. "Chameleon" comes to us, via Latin, from Greek chamaileōn, a combination of "chamai" ("on the ground") and "leōn" ("lion") - a tribute, perhaps, to the lizard's fearsome aspect. It is the ability of the chameleon to change colors, however, that has led to the figurative use of "chameleon" for someone or something that is quick to change. Such figurative use dates back to at least the late 16th century, as demonstrated by King James VI who, writing in 1586 or 1587, requested "I praye you not to takk me to be a Camelion."

Examples of chameleon in a Sentence

at the summer resort he acquired a reputation as a social chameleon—someone who could be whatever his hosts wanted him to be

Recent Examples on the Web

The rainforest of Mount Gorongosa, whose highest peak is 1,863 meters (6,112 feet), is home to pygmy chameleons and other rare species. Christopher Torchia, Fox News, "Coffee and conservation: Mozambique tries both on a mountain," 11 July 2018 The hair color chameleon and scrunchie advocate stopped Instagram scrollers everywhere today with a new look that traded her current dye job for a neoprene blue furthered by a set of lash-grazing bangs. Calin Van Paris, Vogue, "Hailey Baldwin Reveals a New Shocking Neon Hair Color on Instagram," 7 June 2018 Case in point: Nina Dobrev, a major hair chameleon, just got the coolest, asymmetrical chop in honor of the evening. Ruby Buddemeyer, Marie Claire, "Nina Dobrev Got a Major Haircut and Doesn't Look Like Nina Dobrev Anymore," 5 June 2018 Sadr has sometimes been called a chameleon for his ability to read popular sentiment and adapt. Nabih Bulos,, "As election results are announced in Iraq, a new role emerges for a longtime U.S. adversary," 15 May 2018 Helen Mirren seem to straddle the fine line between silver and lighter shades of blonde, like a forest chameleon in the woods. Jessica Berger Gross, Longreads, "Gone Gray," 10 July 2018 With her dramatic transformations for Suicide Squad and I, Tonya, Margot Robbie has already established herself as the ultimate Hollywood beauty chameleon., "5 Beauty Looks Margot Robbie Always Wears — & No One Has Noticed," 2 July 2018 Rita Ora has always been a fashion chameleon—grandiose glitz on the red carpet, low-key polish at the airport—and yesterday while on holiday in Verona, Italy, the singer debuted a radical new look. Edward Barsamian, Vogue, "Rita Ora Gives the Power Suit a Raver Girl Makeover," 5 June 2018 Yesterday’s show was full of visual details including a dragon puppy, a chameleon, extra heads, extra eyeballs, and — monobrows. Kathleen Hou, The Cut, "Gucci Wants You to Leave Your Unibrow Alone," 22 Feb. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'chameleon.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of chameleon

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for chameleon

Middle English camelion, from Middle French, from Latin chamaeleon, from Greek chamaileōn, from chamai on the ground + leōn lion — more at humble

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about chameleon

Listen to Our Podcast about chameleon

Statistics for chameleon

Last Updated

12 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for chameleon

The first known use of chameleon was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for chameleon



English Language Learners Definition of chameleon

: a type of lizard that can change the color of its skin to look like the colors that are around it

: a person who often changes his or her beliefs or behavior in order to please others or to succeed


cha·me·leon | \kə-ˈmēl-yən \

Kids Definition of chameleon

: a lizard that has the ability to change the color of its skin

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on chameleon

What made you want to look up chameleon? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


evasion of direct action or statement

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!