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 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 Director Chris Columbus smoothly ladles out the slapstick with deft broadening strokes that never diminish this story of one family's painful separation. Duane Byrge, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Mrs. Doubtfire': THR's 1993 Review," 24 Nov. 2019 At a hands-on exhibit about comedy props, guests can grab plastic anvils, whoopee cushions and other items and place them on interactive video tables to watch movie and TV clips that use those props in slapstick. Don Steinberg, WSJ, "This Museum Takes Jokes Seriously," 21 July 2018 Here, Chaplin, who composed the score, wrote, directed, and produced the movie, is at his slapstick finest. Craig Cavallo, Saveur, "The Greatest Pasta Moments in Movie History," 31 Aug. 2017 So far, fans have seen clowns Slappy and Monday perform slapstick comedy in their living room, a show of tricks and character sketches featuring Magic Mike and a variety show by Kelli and Julio Ramazini featuring juggling and aerial silks. Shannon Sutlief, Dallas News, "Children can clown around online with Galleria Dallas’ Showtime Saturdays performers," 16 Apr. 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

20 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Slapstick.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 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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