slap·​stick | \ˈslap-ˌstik \

Definition of slapstick 

1 : a device made of two flat pieces of wood fastened at one end so as to make a loud noise when used by an actor to strike a person

2 : comedy stressing farce and horseplay also : activity resembling slapstick

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Other Words from slapstick

slapstick adjective
slapsticky \ˈslap-​ˌsti-​kē \ adjective

Synonyms for slapstick


comedy, farce, humor

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Did You Know?

The idea that knocking people about made for good comedy dates as far back as the Greco-Roman theater, where clowns rambunctiously "attacked" one another onstage. The object from which the word slapstick derives, however, was invented in Italy in the 16th century. Renaissance comedy typically featured stock characters placed in ridiculous situations, and one such ubiquitous character was Harlequin, whose brilliant costuming made him easily recognizable. Harlequin was given to wielding a paddle which was designed to make a terrible noise when he hit someone, usually to the delight of the audience. This paddle was eventually known in English as a "slapstick," and it became a symbol of that type of highly physical comedy. The word slapstick then came to refer to the comedy itself.

Examples of slapstick in a Sentence

an actor whose roles range from slapstick to serious drama a lowbrow comedy that relies heavily on slapstick for its laughs

Recent Examples on the Web

There are very sophisticated references to great literature and cinema as well as the most basic slapstick cartoon gag. Bill Keveney, USA TODAY, "'The Simpsons' exclusive: Matt Groening (mostly) remembers the show's record 636 episodes," 27 Apr. 2018 In this four-monitor installation, slapstick indignities vex different clowns, including one who has a bucket repeatedly fall on his head in a 60-minute video loop. Richard B. Woodward, WSJ, "‘Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts’ Review: Corralling a Lifetime of Creativity," 17 Oct. 2018 The brothers typically undertook a new task in each episode, producing slapstick results. Fox News, "Comedian Barry Chuckle of comedy duo Chuckle Brothers dies at 73," 5 Aug. 2018 So why not bring in somebody so adept with slapstick and goofy visual humor? Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "The folks behind Ant-Man and the Wasp on why Marvel doesn’t always have to save the world," 5 July 2018 But a fine cast (including Bobby Cannavale as Laura’s feckless ex-husband) can’t compensate for the screenplay’s superficial sentimentality and lazy slapstick. That Rolls-Royce is pretty sweet, though. Shana Feste, New York Times, "Review: A Father and Daughter Renegotiate ‘Boundaries’," 21 June 2018 But the real comedy comes from the video’s remarkable original edit, which alternated perfectly between the male and female suspects’ scenes, conveying unintended slapstick with nary a sound. Amy B Wang, Washington Post, "Cameras capture every angle of Canadian couple’s snack-throwing, ceiling-shattering arrest," 30 June 2018 Canadian Security Footage Shows How Not to Pull Off a Heist The couple's escape attempt plays like a slapstick silent film. Luke Darby, GQ, "Canadian Security Footage Shows How Not to Pull Off a Heist," 1 July 2018 All the old-timey stage shtick are in place: running gags, freeze motion, slapstick, men dressed as women, women dressed as men, lots of shouting, and a nifty chase scene. Toby Zinman,, "'Maria Marten' is a rowdy Victorian melodrama of love, revenge and murder," 10 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'slapstick.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of slapstick

1896, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Dictionary Entries near slapstick



slap shot


slap together


slap with

Statistics for slapstick

Last Updated

3 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for slapstick

The first known use of slapstick was in 1896

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English Language Learners Definition of slapstick

: comedy that involves physical action (such as falling down or hitting people)

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More from Merriam-Webster on slapstick

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with slapstick

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for slapstick

Spanish Central: Translation of slapstick

Nglish: Translation of slapstick for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about slapstick

Comments on slapstick

What made you want to look up slapstick? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a knickknack or trinket

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