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 slapstick (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 This decision is not a joke, of course; nor is Facebook’s power, even if this particular situation is approaching slapstick. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, "The Trump Decision Turned Content Moderation Into Shark Week," 5 May 2021 The slapstick of the Mark moments is especially welcome, like the scene of him texting Amber while being hit over and over in the middle of the fight. Oliver Sava, Vulture, "Invincible Recap: Growing Pains," 9 Apr. 2021 Marchese specializes in the kind of slapstick that gets children under 10 giggling. New York Times, "5 Things to Do This Weekend," 4 Mar. 2021 The show was dismissed by reviewers and even some network executives as escapist filler on the TV schedule, low brow and slapstick. Washington Post, "Dawn Wells, wholesome castaway on ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ dies at 82 of coronavirus," 30 Dec. 2020 Witty and moving, with some excellent slapstick mixed in. Los Angeles Times, "The 10 best TV shows of 2020," 7 Dec. 2020 Various plot points veer off into slapstick or just quietly disappear. Leah Greenblatt,, "Christmas gets the lesbian romance it deserves in Hulu charmer Happiest Season: Review," 19 Nov. 2020 Lüscher’s style, a hybrid of intellectual posturing and absurd slapstick, is sharply translated by Tess Lewis, who captures Kraft’s pomposity and the indefatigable march of German syntax. Washington Post, "In ‘Kraft,’ German author Jonas Lüscher pokes fun at Silicon Valley’s shiny elitism and rabid faith in technology," 18 Nov. 2020 As a director, Goldenberg (Valley Girl) leans a little heavy into slapstick; one particular plot turn involving a pair of overly friendly fundamentalists (Breckin Meyer and Sugar Lyn Beard) feels too silly and telegraphed to really take seriously. Leah Greenblatt,, "HBO's goofy-sweet Unpregnant brings teen comedy to a new place: Review," 9 Sep. 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

15 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Slapstick.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for slapstick



English Language Learners Definition of slapstick

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

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