[hahr-luh-kwin, -kin]


(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 formshar·le·quin·ism, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for harlequin

jester, buffoon

Examples from the Web for harlequin

Contemporary Examples of harlequin

Historical Examples of harlequin

  • 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.


    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

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 colourharlequin Great Dane
comic; ludicrous

Word Origin for harlequin

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

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