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 His slapstick humor, physical comedy and naïve persona made him a household name in Japan for nearly five decades. Motoko Rich, New York Times, "Ken Shimura, Comedian Whose Sketches Delighted Japan, Dies at 70," 2 Apr. 2020 But the slapstick is a preamble: Sloss’s signature move is a pivot to vulnerability. Eren Orbey, The New Yorker, "Daniel Sloss’s “X,” a Laddish Comic’s Reckoning with #MeToo," 8 Nov. 2019 The slapstick, however, is in service of a profound vision of stumbling humanity not succumbing to despair but getting up repeatedly despite knowing that falling is our inescapable fate. Los Angeles Times, "Review: Bill Irwin shares the secrets of Samuel Beckett in a masterclass at the Kirk Douglas," 20 Sep. 2019 The reiterative slapstick can wear thin and certain performers seemed a bit shaky on their lines opening weekend. F. Kathleen Foley,, "Review: Joe Orton’s ‘Loot’ cuts with softened edges at the Odyssey," 14 June 2019 Boccaccio also begins The Decameron, his masterful collection of tales (c. 1353) told by young adults fleeing Florence for the countryside, with the shock of plague—and subsequent plot twists, whether slapstick or tragic, unfold as if ordained. Virginia Heffernan, Wired, "The Literature of Plagues Gives Us Words to Live By," 21 Apr. 2020 Veteran actor Brian Dennehy, whose storied career ranged from Broadway's most serious stage roles to Hollywood's silliest slapstick, has died, loved ones said on Thursday. NBC News, "Brian Dennehy, veteran actor known for roles in 'Tommy Boy' and 'First Blood,' dies at 81," 16 Apr. 2020 The narrative, bouncing between slapstick and melodrama, leans into the theme of dogs as man’s best friend and at the same time is a great reminder that there’s nothing like the real thing. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, "Review: Grizzled Harrison Ford works but the digital dogs don't in 'The Call of the Wild'," 18 Feb. 2020 Things go operatically wrong, and throughout Bong uses grim slapstick to show how people are driven to mad lengths by money. Ian Crouch, The New Yorker, "The Best Jokes of 2019," 4 Dec. 2019

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

3 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Slapstick.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jun. 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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