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 Voeltzkow’s chameleon has been missing for more than 100 years. Daisy Hernandez, Popular Mechanics, "This Remarkable Chameleon Disappeared 107 Years Ago. It Just Returned.," 5 Nov. 2020 In fact, one of the fossils was originally misidentified as an early chameleon. Riley Black, Smithsonian Magazine, "Scientists Find the World’s Oldest Chameleon-Like Tongue Preserved in Amber," 5 Nov. 2020 The Voeltzkow’s chameleon is particularly unique and beautiful. Andrea Romano, Travel + Leisure, "This Insanely Elusive Chameleon Has Been Spotted for the First Time in 100 Years," 4 Nov. 2020 Chichikov, the novel’s hero, arrives in a provincial town, charms the local officials with his extravagant flattery and chameleon-like ability to share their obsessions, and then visits landowners in the surrounding countryside. Gary Saul Morson, The New York Review of Books, "An Incandescent Inanity," 3 Nov. 2020 The wine is also a bit of a chameleon, ranging from floral to oozing with bacon fat. Esther Mobley,, "The top wineries for surprisingly good Sonoma County Syrah," 27 Oct. 2017 But in a sign of its chameleon-like nature, different Peronist governments over the decades have ranged from friends to foes of Wall Street and Washington. Patrick Gillespie,, "Cracks Surface in Argentina’s Ruling Coalition as Crisis Deepens," 16 Oct. 2020 Halogen’s Side Slit Cardigan is beloved by reviewers for its chameleon-like ability to go with everything. Lauren Caruso, CNN Underscored, "From jackets to sweaters, 25 top-rated fall essentials at Nordstrom," 16 Oct. 2020 Compared by some to Leonard Zelig, the chameleon-like central character in a 1983 Woody Allen movie, Mr. Worsthorne depicted himself as an unabashed elitist. Alan Cowell, New York Times, "Peregrine Worsthorne, Provocative Conservative British Editor, Dies at 96," 5 Oct. 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

14 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Chameleon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Nov. 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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