chameleon

noun

cha·​me·​leon kə-ˈmēl-yən How to pronounce chameleon (audio)
often attributive
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
2
a
: 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.
3
chameleonic adjective
chameleonlike 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 When paired with Offset on Without Warning or Drake on Her Loss, 21 is a chameleon who blends well regardless of his co-star and is uncomplicated in his approach. Carl Lamarre, Billboard, 22 Jan. 2024 Crianza Rioja Tempranillo is a chameleon, capable of dark and potent expressions when aged, but also just as enjoyable in its nascency. Jason O'Bryan, Robb Report, 12 Nov. 2023 Seth hopes to become a herpetologist and until lately had a pet chameleon named Lizzy. Dan Morse, Washington Post, 10 Nov. 2023 Boy George is reflecting on his life as a chameleon — and the view is clearer than ever. Carly Tagen-Dye, Peoplemag, 8 Jan. 2024 Swift rarely deviates from her signature shade of dark blonde, while Gomez is more of a color chameleon. Kara Nesvig, Allure, 14 Dec. 2023 Selena Gomez, one of our favorite nail chameleons, completely understands the charm of crimson as evidenced by her anything-but-basic weekend mani. Kara Nesvig, Allure, 11 Dec. 2023 But these usually happen on the heads of hair chameleons like Kim Kardashian and Megan Fox, who are known for switching up their hairstyles and colors all the time as is. Danielle Sinay, Glamour, 4 Dec. 2023 In the photo, Akins held daughter Lillie, who was dressed as Rapunzel's pet chameleon Pasquale. Hannah Sacks, Peoplemag, 15 Nov. 2023 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

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Dictionary Entries Near chameleon

Cite this Entry

“Chameleon.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chameleon. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

chameleon

noun
cha·​me·​leon kə-ˈmēl-yən How to pronounce chameleon (audio)
1
: any of various lizards that can vary the color of their skin
2
: a person who easily or frequently changes attitude or purpose
Etymology

Middle English chamelion "chameleon," from early French chamelion (same meaning), from Latin chamaeleon (same meaning), from Greek chamaileōn, from chamai "on the ground" and leōn "lion"

Word Origin
The chameleon of the Old World has a fierce look. The Greeks called it chamaileōn, combining their words chamai, meaning "on the ground," and leōn "lion." It may be that the upright ridge of skin behind the head of many of these lizards reminded them of the lion's mane. The Romans borrowed the Greek word for this little creature, and the French later took the Latin word. For a long time after the word was borrowed into Middle English, it was spelled chamelion, with the ending like our modern word lion. But later writers who knew the form of the word in ancient Greek and Latin changed the spelling to chameleon, to match the original form. From its use as the name of a creature able to change color with its mood or the temperature, the word came to be used for a person who is changeable.

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