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
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


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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 New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick, wearing a sweatshirt, sat in his home in Nantucket, at a dining table inlaid with a harlequin diamond pattern, and traded out of the first round. Louisa Thomas, The New Yorker, "A Surprisingly Poignant N.F.L. Draft, Live from Various Basements," 24 Apr. 2020 Their target is dressed similar to a harlequin, with a hefty wooden face and head mask painted red, black and white. Washington Post, "AP PHOTOS: Spanish towns embrace peculiar old festivals," 26 Jan. 2020 Newborns with harlequin ichthyosis have painful cracks in their thick, hardened skin, according U.S. National Library of Medicine. Benjamin Vanhoose, PEOPLE.com, "Mom Says Toddler Is 'Happy and Smiley' Despite Rare, Painful Skin Condition," 10 Dec. 2019 Their saliva contains the potent nerve toxin tetrodotoxin, the same compound that makes California newts, harlequin frogs, and fugu pufferfish liver so deadly. Eric Scigliano, National Geographic, "Is it wrong to keep octopuses in captivity?," 15 Oct. 2019 In New Hampshire, the most eye-catching part of her wardrobe was a pair of two-toned harlequin-style silver-and-black stiletto heels. Emily Witt, The New Yorker, "Marianne Williamson Wants Politics to Enter the New Age," 14 Aug. 2019 Traditional European harlequins Yanina and Sergey have trained a fleet of pups to jump through hoops, climb up ladders and leap straight into the hearts of children. Trevor Fraser, orlandosentinel.com, "Things to do this weekend: Travel the world with Orlando events," 10 July 2019 References to clowns, those happy/sad jesters of these traveling troupes, extended beyond the makeup to the clothes, some of which featured ruffs and harlequin patterns. Laird Borrelli-persson, Vogue, "Fashion Loves a Clown: Here, 24 Big Top Looks That Prove It From Dior Haute Couture to Alexander McQueen," 21 Jan. 2019 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

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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Time Traveler for harlequin

Time Traveler

The first known use of harlequin was in 1590

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Statistics for harlequin

Last Updated

19 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Harlequin.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harlequin. Accessed 29 May. 2020.

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How to pronounce harlequin (audio)

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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