chameleon

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

Unfazed by associations with cellblocks and parking garages, more homeowners are discovering that concrete is the chameleon of construction. Amy Gamerman, WSJ, "The Rise of the Fashionable Concrete Home," 9 Aug. 2018 With a chameleon ability to wear 'many faces,' Arya is the quintessential Gemini. Katherine J. Igoe, Marie Claire, "Who Will Take the Iron Throne, Based on Every 'Game of Thrones' Star's Zodiac Sign," 16 Apr. 2019 Leave it to ever-fearless style chameleon Dua Lipa to somehow transform the average-Joe bowling outfit into something completely glamorous. Rachel Hahn, Vogue, "Dua Lipa Turns a Bowling Alley Into a Runway," 25 Mar. 2019 Kylie Jenner is by far the biggest hair chameleon in the KarJenner family. Kaitlyn Frey, PEOPLE.com, "Kylie Jenner Gets Post-Pregnancy Haircut 7 Weeks After Giving Birth to Daughter Stormi Webster," 26 Mar. 2018 Joined by longtime hairstylist Frederic Aspiras, the risk-taking beauty chameleon sported a playful black and white frock from Rodarte's Fall 2019 collection. Jenna Rennert, Vogue, "Lady Gaga Gets a Punk Princess Makeover in Los Angeles," 18 Mar. 2019 Teyana Taylor is a bonafide hair chameleon, rocking it short, long, and even in a shade of blorange — yes, that's a thing. Devon Abelman, Allure, "28 Pretty Pink Hair-Color Ideas to Inspire Your Next Dye Job," 10 Oct. 2018 Onstage at the Brooklyn Barclay’s Center with Sarah Jessica Parker, one of the fashion’s ultimate chameleons, Obama pulled out the Balenciaga. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "Michelle Obama Really Just Wore Balenciaga’s Thigh-High Glitter Boots," 20 Dec. 2018 Republicans quickly seized upon Ms. Gillibrand’s record, accusing her of charting a chameleon-like path in the Senate. Jimmy Vielkind, WSJ, "Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to Launch Exploratory Committee for 2020 Presidential Bid," 15 Jan. 2019

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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Last Updated

8 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for chameleon

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

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More Definitions for chameleon

chameleon

noun

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

chameleon

noun
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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