slap·​stick ˈslap-ˌstik How to pronounce slapstick (audio)
: 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
: comedy stressing farce and horseplay
also : activity resembling slapstick
slapstick adjective
slapsticky adjective

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 But much of the slapstick involving the IFs feels generic. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 May 2024 Others railed against the slapstick antics and pidgin English of Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), hyped as the first-ever CG main character in a live-action movie. Angelique Jackson, Variety, 11 May 2024 That simple premise kicks off a slapstick action-comedy buoyed by great voice performances by true-blue action stars like Angelina Jolie and Jackie Chan. Chris Snellgrove,, 16 Apr. 2024 The levels of slapstick were only enhanced by the other two divers causing barely a ripple from 3 meters up. Alexander Smith, NBC News, 5 Apr. 2024 The production has also been staged in Chicago and Milwaukee, and many members of the largely Canadian cast have returned to nourish D.C. audiences with a heaping helping of song and slapstick. Thomas Floyd, Washington Post, 8 Dec. 2023 The movie is good fun and also surprisingly obvious — a slapstick comedy of manners that hints, but only hints, at darker human urges. Ty Burr, Washington Post, 4 Apr. 2024 Streaming on Prime from March 7, the movie might tap into the nostalgia of audiences raised on the Farrelly brand of goofy raunch, gross-out laughs, slapstick, escalating chaos and sticky sentiment. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 6 Mar. 2024 The clowns still perform their slapstick, and remain in their oversized costumes throughout the show, so that the audience can recognize the same performer at the beginning of the show and the ending. Jonathan Abrams, New York Times, 2 Mar. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'slapstick.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1896, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of slapstick was in 1896


Dictionary Entries Near slapstick

Cite this Entry

“Slapstick.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


slap·​stick ˈslap-ˌstik How to pronounce slapstick (audio)
: comedy stressing horseplay
slapstick adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on slapstick

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