chameleon (n.) Look up chameleon at
mid-14c., camelion, from Old French caméléon, from Latin chamaeleon, from Greek khamaileon "the chameleon," from khamai "on the ground" (also "dwarf"), akin to chthon "earth," from PIE root *dhghem- "earth" (see chthonic) + leon "lion" (see lion). Perhaps the large head-crest on some species was thought to resemble a lion's mane. Greek khamalos meant "on the ground, creeping," also "low, trifling, diminutive." The classical -h- was restored in English early 18c. Figurative sense of "variable person" is 1580s. It formerly was supposed to live on air (as in "Hamlet" III.ii.98).