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[hahr-luh-kwin, -kin] /ˈhɑr lə kwɪn, -kɪn/
(often initial capital letter) a comic character in commedia dell'arte and the harlequinade, usually masked, dressed in multicolored, diamond-patterned tights, and carrying a wooden sword or magic wand.
a buffoon.
any of various small snakes having bright diamond-pattern scales.
fancifully varied in color, decoration, etc.:
harlequin pants.
resembling a harlequin's mask:
harlequin glasses.
Origin of harlequin
1580-90; < French, Middle French (h)arlequin, semantically (and in part phonetically) < Italian arlecchino < Middle French, phonetically continuing Old French *harlequin, halequin a malevolent spirit (Compare mesniee Hellequin a troop of demonic horsemen, literally, Hellequin's escort), probably < Middle English *Herla king, Old English *Her(e)la cyning King Herle, presumably a legendary figure, rendered in AL as Herla rex; compare Old High German Herilo a personal name, derivative of heri armed forces
Related forms
harlequinism, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for harlequin
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • We will frankly own that we have been much troubled with the harlequin.

  • She could not but laugh a little at harlequin's undisguised discomfiture.

    Nobody Louis Joseph Vance
  • The harlequin on the bank turned his little pug-nose up to me.

    Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
  • Wise is a harlequin; we let him dance because he is good at it, and it amuses us.

    Among the Pines

    James R. Gilmore
  • His dress was something between that of harlequin and Scaramouch.

    The Infernal Marriage Benjamin Disraeli
  • I can be harlequin, that only wants long legs and jumping about.

British Dictionary definitions for harlequin


(sometimes capital) (theatre) a stock comic character originating in the commedia dell'arte; the foppish lover of Columbine in the English harlequinade. He is usually represented in diamond-patterned multicoloured tights, wearing a black mask
a clown or buffoon
varied in colour or decoration
(of certain animals) having a white coat with irregular patches of black or other dark colour: harlequin Great Dane
comic; ludicrous
Word Origin
C16: from Old French Herlequin, Hellequin leader of band of demon horsemen, perhaps from Middle English Herle king (unattested) King Herle, mythical being identified with Woden
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for harlequin

1580s, from Middle French harlequin, from Old French Herlequin, Hellequin, etc., leader of la maisnie Hellequin, a troop of demons who rode the night air on horses. He corresponds to Old English Herla cyning "King Herla," mythical character sometimes identified as Woden; possibly also the same as the German Erlkönig "Elf King" of the Goethe poem. Sometimes also associated with Herrequin, 9c. count of Boulogne, who was proverbially wicked. In English pantomime, a mute character who carries a magic wand. His Italian form, arlecchino, is one of the stock characters of commedia del'arte. From his ludicrous dress comes the English adjective meaning "particolored" (1779).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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