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


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

Hackett made room for humor, including a little slapstick. Mark Swed,, "Opera UCLA proves Susan B. Anthony, more than ever, remains 'The Mother of Us All'," 21 May 2018 This is a smart series that combines slapstick humor and witty dialogue with cutting-edge science and the odd literary reference. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "The Orville blends science fiction and science fact into a winning mix," 29 Dec. 2018 There were no bright, flashy, fast-moving cartoons or slapstick humor in his neighborhood; just simple, direct conversation and storytelling. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "The 11 best documentaries of 2018," 5 Dec. 2018 Migo has a stock set of wacky sidekicks (voiced by Zendaya, LeBron James, Gina Rodriquez and Ely Henry) who provide moments of bland, broad slapstick but little else. Brent Mcknight, The Seattle Times, "‘Smallfoot’: Cute animated adventure walks a predictable path," 25 Sep. 2018 In the case of The Body, Davis and Fisher deliver some of the key elements of an exploitation film — namely, a handful of gory murders — between scenes that balance gruesome slapstick with high-minded philosophizing. Noel Murray, The Verge, "Hulu’s horror anthology Into the Dark represents the good and bad sides of Blumhouse Productions," 5 Oct. 2018 This also means the chief laughs in the Hotel Transylvania films typically come from physical gags and moments of slapstick. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "Hotel Transylvania’s blockbuster success, explained in one giant dog and one tiny hat," 13 July 2018 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

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

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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).


to move with exaggerated bouncy motions

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