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 chameleon (audio) \ adjective
chameleonlike \ kə-​ˈmēl-​yən-​ˌlīk How to pronounce chameleon (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 WandaVision itself was a pastiche of Wanda’s memories and old sitcom tropes held together by nostalgia, comic book canon, Kathryn Hahn’s chameleon talents, and the Marvel brand. Angela Watercutter, Wired, "TikTok Duets Are Reviving the Exquisite Corpse," 12 Apr. 2021 Sobhraj is in some ways a fascinating character, one who has been compared to Patricia Highsmith’s sociopathic chameleon Tom Ripley. Judy Berman, Time, "Netflix’s Serial Killer Drama The Serpent Is Nihilistic Murder Porn in Prestige True-Crime Packaging," 26 Mar. 2021 And that’s the thing, among a source of pride by the Heat is their chameleon-like ability to adapt to whatever defense is needed at the moment. Ira Winderman,, "ASK IRA: Should Heat defense be all for one, or one for all?," 8 Apr. 2021 The second was vodka’s pliable nature, the chameleon of spirits. Jason O'bryan, Robb Report, "How to Make a Moscow Mule, the Vodka Cocktail With the Coolest Mug in All of Mixology," 25 Feb. 2021 But its absence for nearly a century most likely isn’t because the chameleon is extremely good at hiding or camouflaging itself. Andrea Romano, Travel + Leisure, "This Insanely Elusive Chameleon Has Been Spotted for the First Time in 100 Years," 4 Nov. 2020 Nokia, who is a chameleon with her wardrobe, felt a personal connection to the video’s looks. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, "Princess Nokia’s New Music Video “It’s Not My Fault” Is a Striking Homage to Jennifer Lopez," 26 Mar. 2021 Ballard is capable of being a political chameleon, and the GOP is going to need a few of these after this year. Liz Mair, Washington Examiner, "The new class: Republican campaigns are at a rare crossroads.," 5 Nov. 2020 Kidman is all of these women, and all of these women are Celeste, and the chameleon-like quality Kidman brings to this first season tells you something about what women live through every goddamn day. Roxana Hadadi, Vulture, "Nicole Kidman’s 15 Career Golden Globe Nominations, Ranked," 25 Feb. 2021

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

25 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Chameleon.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 May. 2021.

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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
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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