vaude·​ville ˈvȯd-vəl How to pronounce vaudeville (audio)
-ˌvil How to pronounce vaudeville (audio) ˈvȯ-də- How to pronounce vaudeville (audio)
: a light often comic theatrical piece frequently combining pantomime, dialogue, dancing, and song
: stage entertainment consisting of various acts (such as performing animals, comedians, or singers)
ˌvȯd-ˈvil-yən How to pronounce vaudeville (audio)
noun or adjective

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In the 15th century, several amusing songs became popular across France. These songs were said to have been written by a man named Olivier Basselin who lived in the valley of the river Vire in northwest France. The songs eventually became known as chansons de vau-de-Vire, meaning "songs of the valley of Vire." Other people began writing and performing similar songs, and as this form of entertainment became more widespread, the link to vau-de-Vire was forgotten. The nickname was shortened to one word, vaudevire. As the phenomenon spread beyond France, further changes in pronunciation and spelling shifted vaudevire into vaudeville. The meaning also broadened to include humorous performances and variety shows.

Examples of vaudeville in a Sentence

She became a big star in vaudeville.
Recent Examples on the Web My favorite was the portrait of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who worked the vaudeville circuit. Micaela MacAgnone, New York Times, 26 Aug. 2023 The Baltimore tryout also marks a vindication of sorts for the community leaders who backed the 13-year, $62 million renovation of the Hippodrome, a 109-year-old former vaudeville palace. Mary Carole McCauley, Baltimore Sun, 15 Aug. 2023 Her dad was prolific character actor Bill Quinn, who started out in vaudeville. Mike Barnes, The Hollywood Reporter, 24 Apr. 2023 Ever the showman, Midgley performed an act worthy of a vaudeville magician onstage at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in 1930, inhaling a cloud of the gas and then exhaling to blow out a candle — thus demonstrating Freon’s nontoxicity and its nonflammability. Steven Johnson, New York Times, 15 Mar. 2023 Variations on the electric chair soon moved to vaudeville and sideshow stages, where they were utilized as a performance prop by Bodie and others. Erik Ofgang, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 Mar. 2023 The two men from Oklahoma were beloved across the U.S. for their contributions to aviation and entertainment — Post was the first aviator to fly solo around the world, and Rogers was a Hollywood and vaudeville icon whose newspaper columns were immensely popular. Alena Naiden, Anchorage Daily News, 1 Aug. 2023 In West, every character is out of place — an Ivy Leaguer beguiled by Hollywood, a vaudeville hoofer reduced to door-to-door selling, a Midwesterner lured to California for his health, a suspiciously mature child actor. Los Angeles Times, 11 Apr. 2023 The Warners’ Cascade theater followed the trend by combining movies with vaudeville performances. Chris Yogerst, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Apr. 2023 See More

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

Word History


borrowed from French, "satirical song, comic theatrical piece," going back to Middle French (chançons de) vaul de ville "topical satirical songs," earlier vau de vire, named (according to 16th-century French authors) after the val de Vire, valley of the Vire River in Normandy, where such songs were allegedly composed

First Known Use

1827, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vaudeville was in 1827


Dictionary Entries Near vaudeville

Cite this Entry

“Vaudeville.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


vaude·​ville ˈvȯd(-ə)-vəl How to pronounce vaudeville (audio) ˈväd- How to pronounce vaudeville (audio) ˈvōd- How to pronounce vaudeville (audio)
: theatrical entertainment made up of a variety of songs, dances, and comic acts

from French vaudeville "a humorous song or skit," derived from early French vaudevire "a song that makes fun of something," from chansons de vau de Vire "songs of the valley of Vire"

Word Origin
In the 15th century, a number of humorous songs became popular in France. The songs were said to have been written by a man who lived in the valley of the River Vire, which is located in northwest France. The songs became known as chansons de vau de Vire, meaning "songs of the valley of Vire." Other people were soon writing and performing similar songs. Before long, people no longer connected such songs with the valley of Vire. The name chansons de vau de Vire was shortened to one word, vaudevire. Further changes in spelling and pronunciation have given us the modern word vaudeville, which refers not only to humorous songs, but also to other forms of popular entertainment.

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