noun, often attributive
cha·​me·​leon | \ kə-ˈmēl-yən How to pronounce chameleon (audio) \

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.

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Other Words from chameleon

chameleonic \ kə-​ˌmē-​lē-​ˈä-​nik How to pronounce chameleonic (audio) \ adjective
chameleonlike \ kə-​ˈmēl-​yən-​ˌlīk How to pronounce chameleonlike (audio) \ 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 Ever the beauty chameleon, debuted an entirely new look at the show in Paris this morning. Lauren Valenti, Vogue, "Bella Hadid Bleaches Her Brows for the Haider Ackermann Runway," 29 Feb. 2020 Ashley Benson has been quite the hair-colour chameleon as of late. Megan Decker,, "Ashley Benson Debuted A ’70s Haircut In The Name Of Fashion," 13 Feb. 2020 Ruth had concealed her identity with a chameleon arch to avoid detection. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Review: Jodie Whittaker’s Time Lord returns to classic Doctor Who form," 4 Mar. 2020 This includes Altered Carbon’s space-traveling supersoldier and chameleon Takeshi Kovacs, now played by Anthony Mackie after taking over for Joel Kinnaman in season 2, which is set 30 years after the first season. Shannon Carlin,, "Altered Carbon’s Protectorate Is Based On This IRL Thing — With An Evil Twist," 1 Mar. 2020 The Dutch producer is a sonic chameleon who can serve it up crunchy and hard or smooth and sweet. Kat Bein, Billboard, "Laidback Luke and Sxmson's 'Can't Hold My Tongue' Is Perfectly Feel-Good Electro-Pop," 13 Feb. 2020 Their chameleon-like abilities make practical sense: There are 16 different types, each with its own level of sweetness, degree of starchiness, and unique personality. Saveur Editors, Saveur, "20 Tempting Ways to Cook a Sweet Potato," 24 Jan. 2018 The Pattern beauty creator and hair chameleon gave her ponytail a whimsical edit by gathering her curls into a fancy fabric braid–the kind that makes for a good hair day. Jennifer Ford, Essence, "Tracee Ellis Ross's Pretty Ponytail Is On Our To-Do List," 31 Jan. 2020 Science has documented many biofluorescent animals including chameleons, corals, jellyfish, reef fish, sharks, scorpions, butterflies, budgies, parrots, penguins, puffins, sea turtles and even flying squirrels. Joanna Klein, New York Times, "Salamanders and Frogs Hide a Glowing Secret," 27 Feb. 2020

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.

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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

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

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Last Updated

24 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Chameleon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for chameleon


How to pronounce chameleon (audio)

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
usually disapproving : 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 How to pronounce chameleon (audio) \

Kids Definition of chameleon

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

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