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Cha·me·leon (kə-mēlyən, -mēlē-ən)
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n.
Variant of Chamaeleon.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 
cha·me·leon (kə-mēlyən, -mēlē-ən)
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n.
1. 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.
2. An anole lizard, especially Anolis carolinensis of the southeast United States.
3. A changeable or inconstant person: "In his testimony, the nominee came off as ... a chameleon of legal philosophy" (Joseph A. Califano, Jr.)

[Middle English camelioun, from Latin chamaeleōn, from Greek khamaileōn : khamai, on the ground; see dhghem- in the Appendix of 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.]

cha·mele·onic (-lē-ŏnĭk) adj.

Word History: 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 and chamomile 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 and hūmōnus, the source of English Homo sapiens and human.
(click for a larger image)
chameleon
Parson's chameleon
Calumma parsonii

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendicies

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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