scarlet pimpernel


: a European pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) naturalized in North America and having scarlet, white, or purplish flowers that close in cloudy weather
[Scarlet Pimpernel, assumed name of the hero of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905), novel by Baroness Orczy] : a person who rescues others from mortal danger by smuggling them across a border

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In 1903, Hungarian-born playwright and novelist Baroness Emmuska Orczy introduced the world to Sir Percy Blakeney, ostensibly a foppish English aristocrat, but secretly a swashbuckling hero known as "The Scarlet Pimpernel" who rescued aristocrats from certain death in the French Revolution by smuggling them to England. In The Scarlet Pimpernel, Blakeney's character used a drawing of a small, red, star-shaped flower known in England as a "scarlet pimpernel" as a signature of his involvement in an escape. The popularity of Orczy's novel prompted English speakers to start using "scarlet pimpernel" for any daring hero who smuggled those in danger to a safe haven in another country. Today it is also sometimes used more broadly for a person who is daring, mysterious, or evasive.

Examples of scarlet pimpernel in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Daisy chains, forget-me-nots, celandine and scarlet pimpernel are all featured. Stephanie Petit, Peoplemag, 28 July 2023 Her go-to designer incorporated flowers including daisy chains, forget-me-nots, celandine and scarlet pimpernel to signify Camilla's love of nature, gardening and the British countryside. Monique Jessen, Peoplemag, 13 July 2023 The long-sleeve dress is made from a silk fabric with a dull luster finish, and additionally includes delicate gold and silver embroidery of flowers like daisy chains, forget-me-nots, celandine, and scarlet pimpernel, which are meant to represent the king and queen consort's love of nature. Chelsey Sanchez, Harper's BAZAAR, 8 May 2023 Harper's Bazaar noted that a variety of gold and silver flowers (including daisies, forget-me-nots, celandine and scarlet pimpernel) represented the king and queen's love for all things nature. Adrianna Freedman, Good Housekeeping, 7 May 2023 Embellishments include floral designs featuring strings of wildflowers such as forget-me-notes, daisy chains and celandine along with scarlet pimpernel, meant to indicate the royal couple's love of the British countryside and nature. Morgan Hines, USA TODAY, 6 May 2023 The fruit of the scarlet pimpernel plant, shown here, opens with a neatly hinged lid. Discover Magazine, 29 June 2010

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'scarlet pimpernel.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1835, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of scarlet pimpernel was in 1835


Dictionary Entries Near scarlet pimpernel

Cite this Entry

“Scarlet pimpernel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jun. 2024.

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