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

The slapstick humor struck me as either repressed or coded desire. Alejandro Varela, Harper's magazine, "Carlitos in Charge," 16 Sep. 2019 None, for example, seems to fully clarify the appeal of slapstick. Giovanni Sabato, Scientific American, "What’s So Funny? The Science of Why We Laugh," 26 June 2019 This year’s Toronto International Film Festival has explored many fraught issues, from immigration to criminal justice to Nazis doing slapstick. Steven Zeitchik, Washington Post, "In era of mass murder, Warner Bros.' ‘Joker’ will probably be too much for many," 11 Sep. 2019 Nominated for five Emmy Awards including Best Drama, Succession (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO), artfully blends corporate melodrama with wicked wisecracks and Late Capitalism slapstick. Hugh Hart, Fortune, "An Inside Look at ‘Succession’s’ Corporate Melodrama With Adam McKay and Kieran Culkin," 8 Sep. 2019 More slapstick gags are assigned to an Aquaman knock-off called The Deep. M.s., The Economist, "“The Boys” is a superhero series for the Trump era," 27 Aug. 2019 At its best, Derry Girls hits the emotional intersection of cringe, earnestness, and slapstick. Alex Abad-santos, Vox, "Netflix’s Derry Girls is the best teen show out right now," 14 Aug. 2019 The book, written by Iconis and his frequent collaborators Lance Rubin and Jason Sweettooth Williams, features more broad slapstick than genuine wit. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Broadway Bounty Hunter': Theater Review," 24 July 2019 Punch, freed, grabs up a slapstick and wallops him with it. Robert Coover, The New Yorker, "Citizen Punch," 18 July 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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Dictionary Entries near slapstick



slap shot


slap together


slap with

Statistics for slapstick

Last Updated

8 Oct 2019

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Time Traveler for slapstick

The first known use of slapstick was in 1896

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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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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

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suitable to be imparted to the public

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