har·​le·​quin | \ˈhär-li-k(w)ən \

Definition of harlequin 

1a capitalized : a character in comedy and pantomime with a shaved head, masked face, variegated tights, and wooden sword

b : buffoon

2a : a variegated pattern (as of a textile)

b : a combination of patches on a solid ground of contrasting color (as in the coats of some dogs)

Illustration of harlequin

Illustration of harlequin


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Synonyms for harlequin


buffo, buffoon, clown, zany

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History of Harlequin

When capitalized, Harlequin refers to a stock character of the Italian commedia dell’arte and subsequently the pantomime traditions of other nations. The character began in the 16th century as an unscrupulous comic servant, later became a faithful valet involved in amorous exploits, and ultimately evolved into a clownlike figure engaging in good-natured joking and amusing tricks. Harlequin’s outfit began as peasant clothes covered in bright patches and developed into a tight-fitting costume with bright triangles and diamond shapes and a black half-mask. Harlequin was the principal character of pantomime slapstick plays known as harlequinades.

Examples of harlequin in a Sentence

among the court entertainers waiting to enter the grand hall were masked harlequins in brightly colored pantaloons

Recent Examples on the Web

The only difference is her cupid's bow was emphasized with dramatic, harlequin-like points. Devon Abelman, Allure, "K-Pop Star Sunmi's Best Makeup Looks From Her New "Siren" Music Video," 4 Sep. 2018 All the while, the surroundings were equally eclectic, transporting the audience from a child’s bedroom to a topsy turvy world where an industrial, Chicago-style grid of pipes supported dancing harlequins. Lilah Ramzi, Vogue, "At Austria’s Famous Salzburg Festival, the Hills Do Come Alive With the Sound of Music," 2 Aug. 2018 The first half of the whopping 95 looks was a monochrome palette of black and cream, with shimmering suits, harlequin checks and delicate blouses with dramatic cape sleeves. Rhonda Richford, The Hollywood Reporter, "It Was Black, White and Bold All Over at Red-Carpet Ready Armani Prive Couture Show," 4 July 2018 Shield bugs are also known as jewel bugs for their iridescent colors, like the cotton harlequin and the rainbow shield bug. National Geographic, "Meet the Bug That Armors Itself With Shells," 23 June 2018 Alicia Barber gave birth to Jamison Stam, who has harlequin ichthyosis, in May of 2017. Ashley May, USA TODAY, "Mom bathes 1-year-old son with rare skin disorder in bleach to keep him alive," 21 June 2018 Among the best were the women’s evening suits, one in sequin tiger stripe that looked rock star-ready, another in a multicolored harlequin pattern, the jacket beautifully nipped at the waist with puffed sleeves. Booth Moore, The Hollywood Reporter, "Jeremy Scott Plays Ringmaster at Circus-Themed Moschino Runway Show in L.A.," 11 June 2018 There were several gorgeous gowns, too—in hot pink ruched tulle with daisy appliques, micro pleated harlequin Lurex, or ivory tulle with circus motifs, all of which should add to Moschino’s red-carpet prospects. Booth Moore, The Hollywood Reporter, "Jeremy Scott Plays Ringmaster at Circus-Themed Moschino Runway Show in L.A.," 11 June 2018 Sign up for our daily newsletter and never miss our latest and greatest stories Science The harlequin shrimp is all dressed up in a festive clown suit…a clown suit of murder. Lydia Horne, WIRED, "Can You Spot the Hidden Images in These Psychedelic Landscapes?," 7 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'harlequin.' 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 harlequin

1590, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for harlequin

ultimately from Italian arlecchino, from Middle French Helquin, a demon

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Statistics for harlequin

Last Updated

18 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for harlequin

The first known use of harlequin was in 1590

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English Language Learners Definition of harlequin

: a pattern of diamond-shaped figures of different colors

: a comic character in old stories and plays who wears a mask and colorful clothes with a diamond pattern

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More from Merriam-Webster on harlequin

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for harlequin

Spanish Central: Translation of harlequin

Nglish: Translation of harlequin for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about harlequin

Comments on harlequin

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to make faulty or ineffective

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