slap·​stick | \ ˈslap-ˌstik How to pronounce slapstick (audio) \

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 How to pronounce slapsticky (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for slapstick


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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 Detroit rallied from a 71-67 deficit with a deflating 15-2 run while the Celtics spent the fourth quarter urgently trying to rally, only to bumble and stumble about in slapstick fashion. Gary Washburn,, "Pistons’ third-quarter buzzer beater was a final dagger in Celtics’ ugliest loss this season," 15 Jan. 2020 Kate plays a little of an old horror record, Drop Dead, the source for several slapstick doctor skits in the video: while Kate narrates, Spalding plays a mad dentist onscreen, chasing patient Ron around the room with a drill. David Gordon, Harper's magazine, "The Forty-Year Rehearsal," 6 Jan. 2020 John Wick 3: Parabellum > Joker Chad Stahelski’s slapstick violence wittily satirizes Millennial desperation (imagine if John Woo had Fred Astaire’s aplomb). Armond White, National Review, "The 15th Annual Better-Than List," 3 Jan. 2020 On the way to the finale, Cats requires audiences to sit through slapstick numbers by Rebel Wilson and James Cordon (both playing cats whose main traits are their weight and laziness) and deeply serious dirge-like songs sung by Dench and McKellen. Tyler Coates, Wired, "Cats Is as Terrible as the Internet Guessed It Might Be," 19 Dec. 2019 The ride promises to take you into the cartoon universe where the laws of physics aren't a real concern, and slapstick gags run extremely high. Kelly Allen, House Beautiful, "There's Finally an Opening Date for the First-Ever Mickey and Minnie Disney Ride," 10 Dec. 2019 When Pete catches Mickey goofing off at the wheel of the ship, the two get in a slapstick scuffle that ends with Mickey slipping away, falling into a bucket of water, and being taunted by a parrot. Sarah Brookbank,, "Happy Birthday Mickey Mouse: Disney's iconic character turns 91," 18 Nov. 2019 Engler illustrated his point by citing a pair of sequences that pivot from slapstick to disgrace in the space of five minutes. Hugh Hart, Fortune, "Inside ‘Downton Abbey’: From the Small to Big Screen," 19 Sep. 2019 To the casual observer, his first weeks in office appeared a combination of costume drama and slapstick comedy. David Graeber, The New York Review of Books, "The Center Blows Itself Up: Care and Spite in the ‘Brexit Election’," 13 Jan. 2020

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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Time Traveler for slapstick

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The first known use of slapstick was in 1896

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Last Updated

12 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Slapstick.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for slapstick


How to pronounce slapstick (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of slapstick

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

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