- Any of various tropical lizards of the family Chamaeleonidae, chiefly of Africa and Madagascar, having a prehensile tail, eyes that can move independently, and the ability to change color.
- An anole lizard, especially Anolis carolinensis of the southeast United States.
- A changeable or inconstant person: “In his testimony, the nominee came off as … a chameleon of legal philosophy” ( Joseph A. Califano, Jr. )
Origin of chameleon
Middle English camelioun from
Latin chamaeleōn from
Greek khamaileōn khamai on the ground
; see dhghem-
in Indo-European roots. leōn lion
( translation of
Akkadian nēš qaqqari ground lion, lizard
) (Akkadian nēšu lion
) (Akkadian qaqqari
) ( genitive of qaqqaru the earth, ground
); see lion
The words referring to the animal chameleon and the plant chamomile are related etymologically by a reference to the place one would expect to find them, that is, on the ground. The first part of both words goes back to the Greek form khamai,
meaning “on the ground.” What is found on the ground in each case is quite different, of course. The khamaileōn
is a “lion ( leōn
) on the ground,” a term translating the phrase nēš qaqqari,
“chameleon” in Akkadian, the Semitic language spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The khamaimēlon
is “an apple ( mēlon
) on the ground,” so named because the blossoms of at least one species of the plants called chamomile
have an applelike scent. Chameleon
are also related etymologically to another earthly life form, one whose earthliness was contrasted with that of the gods. Greek khamai
shares the same Indo-European root, *dhghem-,
“earth,” as the Latin words homō
the source of English Homo sapiens
- A small to mid-size reptile, of the family Chamaeleonidae, and one of the best known lizard families able to change color and project its long tongue.
- A person with inconstant behavior; one able to quickly adjust to new circumstances.
- (physics) A hypothetical scalar particle with a non-linear self-interaction, giving it an effective mass that depends on its environment: the presence of other fields.
- Describing something that changes color.
- The wall was covered with a chameleon paint.
Origin See also: chamaeleon
From Middle English camelion, from Old French cameleon, from Latin chamaeleon, from Ancient Greek χαμαιλέων (khamaileōn), from χαμαί (khamai, “on the earth, on the ground”) + λέων (leon, “lion”). Spelling relatinized early 18c.