scarlet pimpernel

noun

1
: a European pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) naturalized in North America and having scarlet, white, or purplish flowers that close in cloudy weather
2
[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

Did you know?

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.

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

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Cite this Entry

“Scarlet pimpernel.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scarlet%20pimpernel. Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.

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