[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.

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

harlequinism, noun
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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
harlequin (ˈhɑːlɪkwɪn)
1.  (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
2.  a clown or buffoon
3.  varied in colour or decoration
4.  (of certain animals) having a white coat with irregular patches of black or other dark colour: harlequin Great Dane
5.  comic; ludicrous
[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 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

1590, from M.Fr. harlequin, from O.Fr. Herlequin, Hellequin, etc., leader of la maisnie Hellequin, a troop of demons who rode the night air on horses. He corresponds to O.E. Herla cyning "King Herla," mythical character sometimes identified as Woden; possibly also the same as the Ger. Erlkönig "Elf
King" of the Goethe poem. Sometimes also associated with Herrequin, 9c. count of Boulogne, who was proverbially wicked. In Eng. pantomime, a mute character who carries a magic wand. His It. form, arlecchino, is one of the stock characters of commedia del'arte. From his ludicrous dress comes the Eng. meaning "particolored" (1779).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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