Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A conventional buffoon of the commedia dell'arte, traditionally presented in a mask and parti-colored tights.
  • n. A clown; a buffoon.
  • adj. Having a pattern of brightly colored diamond shapes.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. a pantomime fool, typically dressed in checkered clothes
  • adj. brightly coloured, especially in a pattern like that of a harlequin clown's clothes
  • v. To remove or conjure away, as if by a harlequin's trick.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A buffoon, dressed in party-colored clothes, who plays tricks, often without speaking, to divert the bystanders or an audience; a merry-andrew; originally, a droll rogue of Italian comedy.
  • intransitive v. To play the droll; to make sport by playing ludicrous tricks.
  • transitive v. To remove or conjure away, as by a harlequin's trick.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. In early Italian and later in French comedy, the buffoon or clown, one of the regular character-types.
  • n. Hence A buffoon in general; a fantastic fellow; a droll.
  • n. In entomology, the magpie-moth, Abraxas grossulariata.
  • n. The Oriental or noble opal.
  • Party-colored; extremely or fantastically variegated in color: specifically applied in zoölogy to sundry animals.
  • Differing in color or decoration; fancifully varied, as a set of dishes. See harlequin service, below.
  • To play the droll; make sport by playing ludicrous tricks.
  • To remove as if by a harlequin's trick; conjure away.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a clown or buffoon (after the Harlequin character in the commedia dell'arte)
  • v. variegate with spots or marks

Etymologies

Obsolete French, from Old French Herlequin, Hellequin, a demon, perhaps from Middle English *Herleking, from Old English Herla cyning, King Herla, a mythical figure identified with Woden.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle Dutch hellekijn ("little hell"), then in French hellequin and in Italian Arlecchino, the name of a popular servant character in commedia dell'arte plays from Old French *Harlequin, Halequin, Herlequin, Hellequin ("a demon, malevolent spirit") ultimately from Middle English Herleking, from Old English Herla Cyning ("King Herla"), a mythical figure identified with Woden. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Of course then there is the desert in harlequin, it comes from the first Harleqin I ever read and it will always be a fav

    NZ/Aus Guest Author: Nicola Marsh

  • The film is "just an excuse for Tykwer to wallow in harlequin muck - sometimes thrilling but mostly tacky," writes Ed Gonzalez at Slant - before he really gets angry at it.

    GreenCine Daily: Interview. Tom Tykwer.

  • The study examines the recent extinctions of species of Atelopus, also know as the harlequin frogs (even though they apparently belong to the toad family), which live in the American tropics.

    Archive 2006-01-01

  • There is also a man with a black face, who is a kind of devil, and called harlequin; at one time he appears, and at another time hides himself, and sometimes attaches himself to the others, and taking the hands of the dancing girls, he dances with them; he then scampers off, and taking a leap, he jumps through a window.

    The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Volume 10, No. 265, July 21, 1827

  • This is called the harlequin bug from its fantastic appearance.

    The Library of Work and Play: Gardening and Farming.

  • The harlequin was a little girl named Gilchrist, one of the most beautiful children, in face and figure, that I have ever seen.

    The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (Rev. C. L. Dodgson)

  • The harlequin, which is native to Asia, was introduced to America in 1988 and has become the dominant ladybird species on the American continent.

    Telegraph.co.uk - Telegraph online, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph

  • After some vain researches the French consul, M. de St. Sauveur, told me that the harlequin was a young lady of rank, and that the columbine was a handsome young man.

    The Complete Memoirs of Jacques Casanova

  • Ryan was born with a rare genetic skin disorder called harlequin ichthyosis where the skin sheds seven to 10 times faster than normal.

    10News.com - Local News

  • There may be a few who look at a Harlequin and think romance (Ok, a lot -- Harlequin has spent a lot of money on their brand, but there are few authors you might think of and think of a "harlequin" author, so it benefits the company, but not the individual.) or Berkeley Prime Crime and think mystery, but most people buy books because of word of mouth or because they like the author.

    Do publishers matter?

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