Definition of harlequin in English:



  • 1A mute character in traditional pantomime, typically masked and dressed in a diamond-patterned costume.

    • ‘The harlequin threw the baton over the translucent material, diving underneath and emerging on the other side to catch the silver rod, to gasps of awe from the spectators.’
    • ‘With a photocopied handout of a leering harlequin she explained the different shapes and colors that worked best.’
    • ‘Virgil is shown working in a fast-food restaurant wearing janglers' bells on his head like a harlequin, the fool's cap of working youth's subjugation, but he exits to save the life of a rapper.’
    • ‘He mimed adults sneaking stares at him from behind menus in restaurants, little kids brazenly trying to pull off his harlequin's mask, or drivers doing double-takes as they passed in cars.’
    • ‘Canio's character, Pagliaccio, catches his wife with the young Harlequin, played by the troupe's junior member, Beppe.’
    jester, joker, merry andrew, droll
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    1. 1.1historical A stock comic character in Italian commedia dell'arte.
  • 2A small duck of fast-flowing streams around the Arctic and North Pacific, the male having mainly grey-blue plumage with bold white markings.

    Histrionicus histrionicus, family Anatidae

    • ‘Lewis cited research demonstrating the effects of boating on bald eagles and harlequin ducks and noted park archaeological sites also could be affected by boaters.’
    • ‘I've seen more gyrfalcons around Myvatn than anywhere else in Iceland and rarely fail to find harlequin ducks under the bridge over the River Laxá.’
    • ‘A walk along Whiffen Spit, the sandbar that curls around Sooke Harbour, turns up harlequin ducks, oystercatchers, plovers, and, if you're lucky, orca sightings.’
    • ‘State and federal studies show that 23 out of 25 keystone species, including orcas, sea otters, harbor seals, harlequin ducks and Pacific herring, still have not recovered from the oil spill.’
    • ‘It hosts a critical range for ungulates, several regionally important wildlife movement corridors, productive wildlife habitat, and listed species such as grizzly bears and harlequin ducks.’


  • In varied colours; variegated.

    • ‘The custom cabinets look like bright circus blocks, the tile backsplash has a harlequin pattern, and the pendant lights resemble spun cotton candy.’
    • ‘Fred, somehow, manages to be even more absurd than Eleanor, dressed in a skin-tight harlequin outfit that makes him look like a scrawny fool.’
    • ‘The signature area is the harlequin pattern of terracotta, green, and yellow glass tiles forming the back-splash behind the cooktop.’
    • ‘NGV Australia is in a whimsical development, one part of a higgledy-piggledy, harlequin coloured complex embracing a doping irregular campo.’
    • ‘It began at 5 O'clock, out on the grounds amid harlequin tents and decorations.’
    varicoloured, variegated, colourful, particoloured, multicoloured, multicolour, many-coloured, many-hued, rainbow, jazzy, kaleidoscopic, psychedelic, polychromatic, chequered
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Late 16th century: from obsolete French, from earlier Herlequin (or Hellequin), the name of the leader of a legendary troop of demon horsemen; perhaps ultimately related to Old English Herla cyning ‘King Herla’, a mythical figure sometimes identified with Woden.