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

Other Words from slapstick

slapstick adjective
slapsticky \ ˈslap-​ˌsti-​kē How to pronounce slapstick (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for slapstick


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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 The last two decades have brought dozens of other spy-movie send-ups, from the ultraviolent Kingsman franchise to Melissa McCarthy's delightful slapstick in Spy. Leah Greenblatt,, 19 July 2022 Bottom’s acting troupe, meanwhile, provides low comedy of the highest order, as the bickering performers rehearse their play with a heaping dose of vaudevillian slapstick. Thomas Floyd, Washington Post, 4 July 2022 This endlessly quotable film is full of ludicrous left turns and rapid-fire punchlines, but underneath all the slapstick lies a warm and fuzzy center. Andrew Walsh,, 23 June 2022 Despite training as a serious Shakespearean actor, Varney found breakout success with the goofball slapstick of the Ernest movies. Brendan Mcaleer, Car and Driver, 21 May 2022 The result is the stuff of silly slapstick rather than a full-Cage head trip. Washington Post, 20 Apr. 2022 As the mustache-twirling sheriff, Muldoon has some evil fun, though the film feels uncommitted to the slapstick. Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times, 31 Mar. 2022 In terms of slapstick and sight gags, Robotnik's silly escape-the-planet sequence sets the film's real-life-cartoon tone. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, 6 Apr. 2022 In between the gaslighting and mildly violent slapstick that moves the mystery along, Baena finds time to let supporting players like Tim Heidecker, Ayden Mayeri and Lauren Weedman score small but memorable laughs. John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter, 12 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of slapstick

1896, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of slapstick was in 1896

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Dictionary Entries Near slapstick

slap shot


slap together

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Last Updated

7 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Slapstick.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on slapstick

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


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