har·​le·​quin | \ ˈhär-li-k(w)ən How to pronounce harlequin (audio) \

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


Synonyms for harlequin


Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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 28-year-old’s debut ready-to-wear collection was seen on Gossip Girl’s Jordan Alexander, reinterpreting subversive wedding trousers, and Anne Boleyn’s Jodie Turner-Smith in harlequin-patterned corsetry. Fawnia Soo Hoo, The Hollywood Reporter, 30 Apr. 2022 Then there was Jon Batiste, who made his entrance in a silver, gold and black harlequin sequin suit in honor of New Orleans, his hometown. New York Times, 4 Apr. 2022 Male Santa Marta harlequin toads will piggyback on their mate for months before egg meets sperm. Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic, 14 Mar. 2022 The checkerboard patterning on the UGG x TS Diamond designs are lifted from a 2019 painting entitled Ol’ Bay, which features a traditional harlequin pattern with a red horizontal seam. Greg Emmanuel, Essence, 1 Mar. 2022 From Dior to Undercover and Rick Owens and Nanushka, high-fashion brands showed elements of the clown aesthetic for Fall 2021, whether in the form of harlequin prints or motifs that recalled bright red noses. Kristen Bateman, refinery29.com, 4 Feb. 2022 Alaska carries a few blue-wing teal and and some harlequin. John Schandelmeier, Anchorage Daily News, 18 July 2021 North of Boston, birders located a royal tern in Newburyport Harbor, a stilt sandpiper, a black skimmer, and a king rail at Plum Island, another royal tern in Rockport, and a very late harlequin duck at Straitsmouth in Rockport. BostonGlobe.com, 3 July 2021 Though the books don’t shy away from violence and feature several nail-biting battle scenes, the Throne of Glass series is very much a high-fantasy fairy tale, featuring harlequin romances with the glittering promise of happily ever afters. Sadie Gennis, Vulture, 26 Apr. 2021 See More

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.

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

Learn More About harlequin

Time Traveler for harlequin

Time Traveler

The first known use of harlequin was in 1590

See more words from the same year

Dictionary Entries Near harlequin

Harlem blue



See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for harlequin

Last Updated

14 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Harlequin.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harlequin. Accessed 28 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on harlequin

Nglish: Translation of harlequin for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about harlequin


Test Your Vocabulary

Eponyms: Words Named After People

True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!